'Patience' review — exploring the many different faces of excellence
In the world of Johnny G. Lloyd's Patience, being a world-champion solitaire player apparently invites the same kind of fame and media attention as a Hollywood star or an NBA player. Far-fetched? Perhaps slightly. But then again, to that solitaire player, the stakes of becoming and remaining the best are just as high as they are for the movie star or athlete, whether or not the world is really watching. For 90 minutes at the McGinn/Cazale Theater, at least, we are watching, and we're invited into that mindset.
The player at the center of Patience is Daniel, who directly states at the beginning that his mom nurtured his solitaire talent from a young age in the name of "Black excellence." That's a not-so-subtle indication of the show's otherwise deftly executed theme: all the different ways excellence can look, and at what point excellence doesn't lead to happiness.
Daniel (a reserved but magnetic Justiin Daniels) is the textbook example of excellence: undefeated world champion who hasn't been challenged in years, only 25 years old and at the top of his game. But he's at a point where he's considering pulling back from his competitive career. He wants to live a quiet life together with his fiance, Jordan, but after years of training and competing in isolation, he doesn't know how to really embrace a future with another person.
So he's at a crossroads, wondering what "excellence" now means for him. He's met with different answers. For his momager (a self-assured Mary E. Burke), excellence is a continued commitment to his talent. For Jordan (Jonathan Burke, who provides unfailing comic timing), it's learning to grow past that talent and be a reliable and open partner. So it is, too, for Nikita, Daniel's friend and former competitor who left that world to pursue multiple solitaire-adjacent side hustles: teacher, PR rep, competition referee. (Nemuna Ceesay is perfectly poised and charming in the role.)
And then there's Ella, the up-and-coming 18-year-old wunderkind played by a commanding Zainab Berry. His competitor in a career-defining match for them both, she appears to be a mirror of what Daniel once was: hyper-focused, not here to make friends, and unabashedly aware of her own talent. She and Daniel deliver ending monologues in parallel in which they compare themselves to the Williams sisters of tennis: Daniel as Venus, the shooting star who burns out early, and Ella as Serena, the underdog who comes from behind to achieve longevity.
Together, this small but mighty ensemble of characters show that excellence doesn't look the same for everyone. There are many different ways to feel fulfilled in one's life and career, and any audience member can find themselves in one of these characters, who are all presented as triumphant in their own right.
Ella, for one, is met with a bevy of camera flashes at the end of Patience. It's the same image that introduces us to Daniel at the play's beginning, and we're left to wonder if she'll someday go down his road of burnout and doubt. But for now, she's excellent on her own terms.
Patience is at the McGinn/Cazale Theater through August 28. Get Patience tickets on New York Theatre Guide.
Photo credit: Zainab Barry and Justiin Daniels in Patience. (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)
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