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Taking a Chance: 'The Dice House' gambles with fate.

The Dice Man Cometh

New Renegade Theatre Experiment takes a chance on Paul Lucas' 'The Dice House'

By Marianne Messina

THERE ARE NO PATTERNS to what happens in life," says Mr. Smith, a character from Paul Lucas' play The Dice House, now running at Benson Theatre. Last Saturday, The Dice House proved to be an ample challenge for the Renegade Theatre Experiment (an acting troupe made up of recent Santa Clara University graduates) and not just because there's a character for every teleological system--fate, divine retribution, natural selection, randomness--in the Philosophy 101 text book.

For one thing, the play disgorges a logjam of language or, according to Mark Drumm (speaking after the performance), who plays the dice-rolling psychiatrist Dr. Ratner, "a lot of psychobabble." Both Drumm and Sean C. Murphy (as rival psychiatrist Dr. Drabble) seemed stretched to their limits trying to get around the wordy speeches, tending to wax stentorian in a clinch. Dr. Ratner calls his Dice House a "research center"--think cult--"for randomized living," and his cure for all neuroses is to let the patients' decisions be dictated by a roll of the dice.

When Drabble finds out that his wife, Polly (Sarah Almazol), has gone to live at Ratner's center, he blackmails a patient named Matthew (Spencer Haugen) to kidnap Polly. The kidnap scene requires the slight Haugen to bind Almazol hand and foot and carry her down a lengthy L-shaped staircase. Almazol put up nary a struggle when a little kicking, writhing and falling could have added visual humor and distracted the audience from what came to seem like overwhelming logistical considerations.

But in spite of some amateurish moments, the Renegades brought off a very clever, funny performance. The shaving scene (when the dice instruct Polly to shave Matthew's pubic hair) is ingeniously staged, lending a squirmy kind of humor to Polly's great line "These dangly bits are a devil." Peter Canavese, with his expressive eyebrows and subdued gentry manner, managed to make Mr. Smith (who is being "slowly assassinated" for cadlike crimes) somehow humorous and sympathetic at once. And the ruddy, bearded Dr. Ratner, who is using the dice to "unshackle [himself] from the chains of conservative" dress, first appears in a Scottish kilt, next in leather chaps, and finally in a tangerine evening gown.

With its sprinkling of scatology and no real nudity, The Dice House is hardly as fringey as its popularity at Edinburgh's Fringe Festival last year would suggest. Contrary to what Drabble thinks, the dice don't replace conscience, since the operant question, "Do you have the courage and commitment to follow the dice?" is simply conscience in service to a different value system. And phrases like "dice willing" and "the dice have instructed me" show that man is consistently prone to find a higher power to answer to.

The Dice House plays June 18-21 at 8pm at Benson Theatre, 550 Elm St., San Jose. Tickets are $12/$18. (408.351.4440)

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From the June 19-25, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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