A group of friends gather every once in a while to reconnect with each other over a game of Monopoly. They have different jobs, money and housing situations, and life goals but all of that is put aside for the game. On this night, however, a new player joins the friends and shifts the group dynamics perhaps permanently.
It starts out uncomfortable but innocuous; a stranger invited into an inner circle but misunderstanding boundaries and personal histories of the friends. Jasper Garner Gore’s character is the familiar figure in political arguments at parties, an upper-middle class white man who denies his privilege and attributes his financial and career success to his hard work. In a setting of people from different racial, economic, and gender identities and backgrounds, his knuckle-down attitude rubs the other players the wrong way very quickly. In order to prove a point, the players decide to turn their game of Monopoly into an example of luck vs skill and they’re willing to risk real money on the argument.
Steven Hopley’s new play is about power, position, and privilege. While the players, especially Emilia Stubbs Grigoriou’s character, are hoping to prove something in the luck of the dice, what’s at stake in their argument becomes much bigger than Monopoly money. It’s a clever overlapping of economic theories and the way they play out in the real world when not everyone starts at the same place or with the same resources. The argument each character proposes is astute and in touch with the discussions plastered with boomer vs millennial headlines in nearly every media outlet across Australia. Conventional wisdom about finances, housing, and career growth are not holding true for the changing global economy and Hopley’s script makes that tangible.
But not everything is discussions about money: these are a group of friends, too. Daren Young is energetic and charming as a struggling photographer with dreams of a Corvette and harbour views. His big characterisation translates to a cheeky ease on stage which livens up drier conversation spells. Gore is more reserved in his style but he pulls off the smarmy, arrogant, and condescending businessman well whether dolling out unsolicited advice or receiving his backlash. Alison Lee Rubie as the host and mediator throughout the evening of gameplay is measured with a delicacy in delivery of her insecurities and desires that earns her the final moments of reflection.
For a script about a group of people playing a board game, Hopley’s script and direction are engaging, smart, and sharp in their examination of social relations. These characters are familiar Sydney-siders trying to navigate a changing world and acknowledging systems geared against them. If nothing else, this play will make you question what it means to win at Monopoly.
Monopoly is running at El Rocco from February 25th – March 25th