I had a nice surprise last week when I received an email from the author of the Men of Mah Jongg, Richard Atkins. He wrote to tell me that he had enjoyed my blog post about his play (click here to read my post). I was very excited to learn that the author of the play found my post and enjoyed it! Atkins also told me that the play has continued to generate rave reviews. The first rate character actor Jerry Stiller has said “It is exactly the type of thing I would like to do,” and Alan Arkin has said “if there ends up being a film version of the play I’d be happy to look at the script.” We hope to see the show again on Broadway and at our local AMC/Loews! You can read more about the play at: http://www.momj.vpweb.com/about_us.html.
Many think of American Mah Jongg as a women’s game. The two week run of “The Men of Mah Jongg” at the Queens Theatre in the Park in Flushing Park, New York, disputes that misnomer.
The Men of Mah Jongg, written by Richard Atkins and directed by Tony Award winning Mark Medoff (Children of a Lesser God) tracks four elderly gentlemen as they deviate from their regularly scheduled poker night to play mah jongg instead. The foursome tries mah jongg after one of them, the grumpy Sidney who has spent two years grieving the loss of his wife, Mildred, by refusing to leave his Upper West Side apartment, receives a package in the mail addressed to Mildred. The package contains a DVD of lessons on how to become a mah jongg master. After watching the video and practicing the game with Mildred’s set, Sidney convinces his reluctant friends to try it. They quickly become addicted. Sidney feels close to Mildred by playing the game she loved, and it helps him heal.
Between mah jongg rounds the foursome grapples with love, loss, friendship, dating and with the question of how to embrace life. While the first scene dragged a bit as the characters and their angst were introduced, the play became funnier and the characters more endearing as the play progressed. There are many laugh-out-loud moments, and the acting is first-rate. We inadvertently met one of the actors, Jasper Jamrog, who plays Jerry, on the way into the Theater. He was a pleasure, and his transformation from the regular sixty-something we met in the lobby to they endearing, witty, improv-singing octogenarian we saw on-stage was impressive and entertaining.
All self-respecting American Mah Jongg aficionados will notice a particular hole in the plot. The men play American Mah Jongg, complete with a card from the National Mah Jongg League. However, the woman speaking on Sidney’s DVD is Asian. There are many varieties of Asian Mah Jongg, including Chinese and Japanese Mah Jongg. The Asian games have very different rules compared to American Mah Jongg. It is likely that any DVD featuring an Asian teacher focuses on one of the Asian varieties of Mah Jongg and not the American game. Therefore, it is unlikely that Sidney and his friends could have learned Mildred’s game from that DVD. Still, we were willing to suspend disbelief to embrace the story-line.
The audience for the Men of Mah Jongg was a balance of men and women whose ages ranged from late twenties to retirees. There was a mix of couples and groups of friends. While many audience members were friendly and pleasant, my unfortunate husband sat next to an elderly curmudgeon who scolded him for laughing too loud and moving too much in his seat. Further, when we arrived, there was an elderly man in our assigned seat who expressed great displeasure that he had to move over to vacate one of our seats and remove his coat from our other seat.
All-in-all, if you’re looking for an enjoyable outing with your mah jongg group or other friends or family, I recommend the Men of Mah Jongg. You can find more information here: