Growing old gracefully wasn’t what D. L. Coburn had in mind when he wrote THE GIN GAME a drama/comedy for two aging actors – a slight, funny yet moving play that mysteriously won a Pulitzer Prize in 1978.
Dealing with life in a nursing home when no one comes to visit, having to give up your life’s savings and your dignity, staring into space day after day and accepting the aches and pains of life after a certain age are some of the situations the playwright tackles as two oddly matched patients meet and develop a relationship over a deck of cards.
This ramshackle home for the aged has seen better days as have its inhabitants. Looking like it’s ready to hold a yard sale for wheel chairs, walkers and canes we meet Weller Martin (a steadfast and blustery James Earl Jones) – a grumpy and cynical man who has trouble walking – his maladies being old age and an obsession with playing and winning gin rummy.
A new girl at the home shuffles into his life – Fonsia Dorsey (a remarkable Cicely Tyson) fragile, well kept, clutching her handbag and suffering from diabetes who turns out to be a feisty and formidable opponent in the game of cards that Weller teaches her to pass the time of day.
She is a quick learner and an even quicker winner. Much to his growing frustration and anger she wins every game, swooping in to take his discarded cards and beating him at his own game. In more ways than one. Playing cards relaxes her. Playing to win raises his blood pressure to a boiling point. That’s about it.
Variations on how she says “Gin!” every time she wins is priceless. As is her attempt to soften up Weller. She does get him to reluctantly dance on the porch – flirting like a young girl and losing about thirty years in the process.
We discover what makes each of them truly tick. It’s interesting and quite entertaining. But slight. Without two expert actors we would be left with only a deck of cards. With pros like James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson we are the winners – getting to eavesdrop on two expert performers at the height of their game eventually bringing out the best and the worst of each other.
THE GIN GAME is nicely directed by Leonard Foglia. Riccardo Hernandez has done an excellent job with costumes and scenic design. At the Golden Theatre. Through Jan 10th
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
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