The Gin Game
The Public Theatre
For the past two weeks the Public Theater has staged the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “The Gin Game,” written by D. L. Coburn and winner of four Tony awards, including best play and best direction by Mike Nichols in the play’s Broadway revival in 1997.
Many directors nationwide have tried to emulate Nichols’ original production. No doubt local director Fran Austin found the play a difficult piece to maneuver with its weighty themes of life-long regret and self-sabotage as a means of dealing with the disappointment of growing old.
And with only two acting roles to tell the story, Michael Davis and Candace Hynkle certainly worked hard to catch all the subtle character arcs that give this play its poignancy, but they still pulled it off impressively.
Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey are two bitter and lost souls on the last leg of their life stuck in a “slum” of a nursing home, where nurses are indifferent and utterly absent from the stage, and funerals are the hot topic of discussion.
In order to escape their regrets, Weller and Fonsia play games of gin in an isolated corner of the home and share some flirty conversation. While Fonsia is a conservative lady brought up where playing cards was considered a sin and foul language was never heard, Weller considers these virtues admirable, but small at best.
For Weller, indulging in the bitterness of a wasted life is better than ignoring it — as Fonsia does — and every other word out of his mouth is a curse — especially when playing gin. Weller’s edgy personality puts Fonsia off a bit, but she nevertheless finds his charm hard to resist. So, as she appeases Weller with a game of gin, she finds herself with a bit of beginner’s luck winning every hand in a matter of minutes. It doesn’t take too long for Weller’s pride to explode in anger with a card table flung against the wall.
At times the performance seemed admittedly amateur with forgotten lines and awkwardly halting dialogue, but the more important aspects of the characters were acted with empathy, expressive body language and vocal performance.
— By Dustin Allen