Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Rocky lives with her mother and her daughter Maya (Louisa Kizer) in a somewhat rundown stucco home on a reservation in Arizona, with cheap outdoor furniture of the sort one might seen on a pontoon boat or outside a trailer. (Scenic design is by Tanya Orellana.) Local boy Levi (Chingwe Padraig Sullivan) is an up-and-comer at the tribe's casino, and also hot for Rocky. His love is unrequited, but the two are still thick as thieves–though only Rocky will turn larcenous. Over the course of just over two hours, decades will pass, Rocky will descend deeper and deeper into her addiction, and we will wonder just how much she will lose to keep on losing.
As is true with some addicts, Rocky has a charm that is undeniable, a charm that will serve her well as she convinces those around her to enable her addiction. It's a harrowing space to inhabit: loving someone fervently, deeply and, despite hating that person's appetite for self-destruction, being unable to stop it. Fortunately for Cashed Out, Dickerson has a similar charm. Despite the indignities she commits–and brings upon herself–it's hard not to love someone with such an effervescent personality, beaming smile, and seemingly indefatigable optimism. For Rocky, the big jackpot is always around the corner.
The most stable member of Rocky's extended family is her Aunt Nan (Sheila Tousey). Aunt Nan is like the sun around which the rest of the characters orbit: she is their source of warmth, energy and comfort. Tousey delivers by far the best performance of the night. She has a solidity and ease on stage that is sadly missing from most of the rest of the cast.
In its current form, the play is a bit of a mess. Despite there being much to like about Cashed Out, its changes in time are often clumsily handled, threads established in the first act end up going nowhere (why do we focus on young Rocky readying for a pageant of some sort and then hear virtually nothing about it again?), and themes which show great promise, such as the Rocky's family's reputation as expert basket weavers, aren't fully developed. There's a moment early in the play when Rocky claims she left basket weaving behind because it was "too much work, too little reward" that could develop into a theme for Rocky's approach to life, but Jackson doesn't fully follow through on it.
Though we see some of Rocky's time in the casinos, we don't get a view into her state of mind. Gamblers can be interesting people, with quirks and superstitions and justifications that are fascinating, if often sad. There's a self-denial, an abnegation of reality that gamblers possess that could add even greater depth and color to Rocky's character, but it all gets left on the table. There is also a severe lack of realism about the nature of slot play, which seems to be Rocky's only game. We see her stuffing coins into a single machine on stage, but if you've been inside a casino lately, no one uses change anymore. You feed in bills and when you cash out, the machine spits out a receipt you take to the cashier's cage.
There are some lovely moments near the end with Buddy, Rocky's dad, that could break your heart, and Sullivan is likable as Levi and develops his character nicely as he ages. Director Tara Moses is somewhat crippled by a script that is still in need of development, and it's heartening that SF Playhouse has cast actors of (for the most part) native background. Ultimately, however, Cashed Out never pays off.
Cashed Out runs through February 25, 2023, at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco CA. Performances are Tuesdays-Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $15-$100. For tickets and information, please visit www.sfplayhouse.org or call the box office at 415-677-9596.