The title of Cathy Dresbach’s new play, 3 No Trump, makes no reference to the woman-hating racist who’s about to take presidential office. The “Trump” here refers to the game of bridge, around which this slender comedy is built.
The premise is as facile as the material it carries: Five women meet, over a 20-year period, in the family room of one of the members of a four-handed bridge club. As they play slam bids and jump shifts, they talk — about their lives, the issues of the day, and, because this story is set in Phoenix, about the Suns, the summertime weather, and Fife Symingon’s resignation. They keep a journal about bridge scores, and about what’s going on in the world and in the lives of the club members.
Based on the journals of Dresbach’s own mother’s bridge club (most of whom were in attendance on the night I saw the play), 3 No Trump is built specifically for its audience: “women of a certain age” who live in Maricopa County. Many of the laughs are handed to local references (pantyhose sales at Alpha Beta; an ongoing shtick about Pic-n-Save), as is the slideshow, recapping local news of the day, that plays in the background during each of the blackouts.
The story arc is small and tidy, tucked into a sentimental homage to ordinary people. Dresbach understands the unfussy banter of these women: The weather here, according to one of them, is “hotter than a goat’s butt in a pepper patch!”; another threatens punishment with “I’ll beat you with a wet noodle!” Her dialogue captures perfectly the clever chatter of women whose greatest achievement is the birth of a great-grandchild, whose lives are, as one of them puts it, “as exciting as Shirley’s bird-watching trip to Patagonia.” Equally wry big-picture jokes, meant to comment on the passage of time and how little things have changed (most notably one about Bill Clinton’s run for president and how much one of the characters likes his wife, whose name she can’t immediately recall) were mostly met with silence on the night I attended.
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The actresses personify characters which, in lesser hands, might have slipped into caricature. Susan Sindelar handles the showiest role — she’s loudmouth Phyllis, that irreverent theatrical prototype who says what everyone else is thinking — with some subtlety, and Jodie Weiss gives everywoman Shirley (who takes classes and has failed romances) some real depth.
The larger message is as uncomplicated as these women’s lives: Friendships are important, loyalty is a real thing, and Phoenix is a funny place to live. Dresbach’s affection for the ladies of the club is the real grand slam in this good-natured comedy over at Theater Works.
3 No Trump continues through January 29 at Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, 10580 North 83rd Drive. Call 623 815-7930 or visit theaterworks.org.