“Aces Wild,” by Lisa Diana Shapiro, is an example of how a play can be redeemed with a strong ending, despite an extremely shaky start. With attention to the first act, which presently makes one squirm in disbelief, the play has potential.
Kate (Barbara Whinnery), a sharp businesswoman who co-runs an ad agency, loses her panache when boyfriend Dave (Brian Patrick Clarke) proposes. She says yes but still needs to come to terms with it.
That night, after Dave leaves, 15-year-old runaway Ace (Shapiro) appears at her door needing a place to stay; over the course of weeks, Kate unravels little about Ace but reveals much about herself. With Act 2, the audience discovers the rather predictable truth about Ace’s real identity.
The big problem is that Act 1 comes across clumsily, bringing up questions people shouldn’t have to ask: Why would Kate, who frightens easily and sleeps with the light on, allow in a stranger at 2 a.m.? Why isn’t Dave more inquisitive about this person?
Act 1 is also hampered with misdirection and questionable acting choices. Whinnery telegraphs Kate’s pre-engagement state of mind by being cold and distant to Dave right at the start, missing the chemistry that should be there. Why would Dave want to marry her?
As Dave, Clarke displays the needed emotions, despite the lack of real interaction, but as a workaholic VP in a conservative bank, he looks all wrong, with his long, Fabio blond hair and his muscled physique (in contrast to Whinnery’s near anorexia).
Playwright Shapiro, in the title role of Ace, has given herself juicy material, but she, too, doesn’t look the part. She’s supposed to be 15 and, though she works hard and makes the right moves, it’s not enough.
Despite the odd casting, director Gwenn Victor succeeds in the second half in eliciting empathy and emotion.
Tech credits are the star of the show. Robert Smith’s set design, impeccable within the new and wonderfully comfortable Theatre Geo, speaks volumes about Kate’s life, echoing the elegance her lifestyle suggests. Smith’s lighting design, too, lends grace.
Costume designs by Dean Harris match the characters well.