By D.L. Coburn; Directed by Leonard Foglia
Broadway, Play Revival
Runs through 1.16.16
John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street
by Jerron Herman on 10.20.15
Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones in The Gin Game. Photo by Jane Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: Featuring two titans of film and stage, this often riotous play explodes into a game of wits.
Weller Martin (James Earl Jones) is angry. That’s putting it lightly—this man is rabid. Obsessed with the card game gin, he invites a newcomer to the nursing home, Fonsia Dorsey (Cicely Tyson), to play him. Unbeknownst to Weller, Fonsia plays like a shark and soon his temper takes hold to a hilariously shocking degree. The promise of a docile game sours quickly as barbs fly after every yell of “Gin!”
D.L Coburn’s script reads like a didactic interview with the aged—all the known phrases and grunts, complaints and wishes, yet spoken through Jones’ lauded baritone and Tyson’s high alto the words sing. There are moments when Tyson’s Fonsia screeches in terror at Weller’s unpredictable bursts and you actually fear for her life. In contrast Jones’ low bellow suggests hidden secrets covered over with mellow depth. It is a rare pleasure to see these two onstage together. At first their capital overtakes the production; one is merely satisfied with their celebrity, yet as the play progresses I forget Tyson’s awards or Jones’ career. Instead I delved into the created dysfunction of Weller and Fonsia.
The construct of the gin game both intrigued and alienated me, however. Chalk it up to my microwave generation, so thirsty for sudden bursts. The game’s habituation lost its power for me midway through. I was impressed by most of the surprises in the play, though. Towards the end as tensions rise, Weller and Fonsia both finally use the great F-bomb to audience delight. Hearing older people swear never ceases to shock; especially when I’ve only seen Tyson portray wholesome grannies. Regardless, both luminaries retained their good nature in my mind. In fact, their unfettered insults brought me closer to their subtext. I was able to hear the pains of their pasts clearly. In turn, Weller’s final burst is justifiable when you consider all that’s been under the surface.
The Gin Game boasted a full house during my performance with audiences hollering throughout. This is a great play to see for those who know or are on their way to what it means to be aged. The play’s production design by Riccardo Hernandez is solitary, and references dilapidation nicely with a corner of useless junk strewn over the unused porch. I enjoyed the sight of rain during the climaxing storm, a clever stream cascades down on the roof, and the home’s lights which flickered with character. Tyson’s costumes, also by Hernandez, are both glamorous and pedestrian, and kudos to whoever picked that white purse she clenches mercilessly; it is the perfect grandma bag. Directed by Leonard Foglia, this play is lightly dusted off, retaining a commitment to an original production. I loved seeing James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson share the same stage and this play invites great players to a precarious table.
(The Gin Game plays at the John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street, through January 16, 2016. Performances are Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2, Thursdays at 7, Fridays and Saturdays at 8, and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $57-141 and are available at telecharge.com. )