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reviewed by Mark Kamish

Friday night was my first-ever visit to Main Street Production’s Westfield Playhouse (the 150-some-year-old theater just north of Indy – yes, still no running water indoors) where I enjoyed The Dealer Smiles, a thought-and-feeling-provoking play written by, starring and directed by local playwright, actor and guest reviewer for “A Seat on the Aisle,” Larry Adams.

Although Larry’s “comedy of Biblical proportions” and philosophical look of religion has been around for a few years – once before in Westfield, once at IndyFringe and for several church groups (there are even a couple YouTube clips out there) – it was a brand new opening night on Friday for this three-weekend run. See it for the first time, or see it again! The show is not too long (about an hour), but in that relatively short time, much “heavy” ground is covered in this two-man show, albeit in a light and easy way.

The plot and set are pretty simple. Matt Pierson (Larry Adams), recently divorced and in the thick of guilt over his role in his marriage’s demise (he’s noticeably still wearing his wedding band), is in the self-help section of a small local bookstore (where have those all gone, by the way?). There, he seeks answers to the struggles and losses he is dealing with in the crosshairs of middle-age.

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From left: Larry Adams and Jaime Johnson in Main Street Production’s “The Dealer Smiles”

In walks Josh (masterfully played by Jaime Johnson), a bubbly but odd fellow wearing a red “smiley face” shirt and matching red tennis shoes. After bumming some change from Matt for a cup of the bookstore’s own elixir of hot chocolate, Josh, by way of conversation (uninvited by Matt), goes on about the history of chocolate. Taken out of his self-absorption by Josh’s cocoa monologue, Matt is ready now to engage in a discussion with Josh that becomes much more.

What develops is a conversation we all seem to have at different points in our lives: Is there a God? If there is, who is She? What am I doing here? What purpose do I serve? How do I deal with this loss? Why is everything always changing? What did I do to deserve this? Am I the only person having these weird thoughts?

And, as in real life, Matt’s open, candid conversation with Josh (who seems to have an inside track with the “Almighty Dealer”) ultimately reveals no answers and resolves very little, other than to cause Matt (and the audience) pause; to be open to greater self-awareness and the peace that comes from being present and not resisting what life brings our way.

Very organized, light-hearted, certainly laugh-out-loud funny in some spots, and fast-paced, The Dealer Smiles will likely lead to discussions that continue long after you leave the theater.

In fact, Larry and Jaime take some time at the end of the show to launch those discussions, holding a “no-holds-barred” Q & A with the audience. I found this 30 minutes or so as interesting and entertaining as the show itself.

In a similar free-for-all discussion about religion I once had with a high school teacher of mine, I remember that teacher telling me, “I’m not Catholic because I think Catholicism is the second-best religion.” Religion and faith play such vital roles in our lives. Somehow, whether we are members of a particular church, spiritual seekers unaffiliated with any particular dogma, or even atheist, our beliefs, pursued in search of meaning and deeper connection, become very, very personal. These faiths and beliefs do, in fact, become part of our identity in many cases.

I think Larry’s play reminds us of a danger brought about by our strong-held spiritual faiths and religious beliefs. Unfortunately, our commitment to following those faiths and beliefs, purportedly in the pursuit of recognizing the interconnectedness we all share with one another and with our Source, can ironically separate us from each other (and from our Higher Power). The inevitability of the ego to begin to view “my church,” “my spiritual belief,” “my faith” to distinguish our “right ways” of thinking and believing” from all of those “lost souls” who believe differently, doesn’t unite; it divides. One of many beautiful things about The Dealer Smiles is the way Larry’s script appears to make room at the table for people of all spiritual beliefs (and even disbeliefs) to participate in this greatly-needed human conversation.

The Dealer Smiles continues its run at Main Street Production’s Westfield Playhouse through October 9. For more on specific dates, show times and to order tickets, call the reservation line at (317) 402-3341, email the box office at info@westfieldplayhouse.org or visit Main Street Production’s website: http://www.westfieldplayhouse.org/.

And remember to stick around after the show to talk with Larry and Jaime about all things spiritual and to discuss bringing this show to your church or spiritual group.

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