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The Gin Game - Elizabeth Ahlfors

The Gin Game

Golden Theater  West 45th Street 
Previews: Sept. 21. 2015
Opening: Oct. 13, 2015; Closing Jan. 10, 2016
Two hours, one intermission
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Wasn't it Bette Davis who was quoted as saying, "Growing old ain't for sissies?"  James Earl Brown (You Can't Take It With You) and Cecily Tyson (A Trip Wasn't it Bette Davis who was quoted as saying, "Growing old ain't for sissies?"  James Earl Jones (You Can't Take It With You) and Cecily Tyson (A Trip to Bountiful) prove they're no sissies as they face the burdens and inequities of growing old in The Gin Game at the John Golden Theater.
In 1977, D.L. Coburn's play premiered at the same theater with Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.  The following year it won a Pulitzer Prize.  Today with Jones as Weller Martin and Tyson playing Fonsia Dorsey, the feisty dialogue and polished performances shine with their own brilliance.  Beginning as a promising friendship, their relationship switches from good-natured exchanges to erratic unpredictability.  They play out their relationship on a dilapidated porch of a rundown nursing home that would challenge the moods of anyone.  

When they two first meet, Weller concludes that he has found a gin rummy newbie, someone easy to beat.  However, when Fonsia, portrayed by Cecily Tyson, surprises him with an inherent talent, or good luck, playing gin, winning game after game, Weller's frustration becomes problematic.  

Tyson's Fonsia is tidy and straight-laced.  Weller seems like an okay guy, a little full of himself, whose only joy now is gin rummy but he has tender moments mixed with some combative bursts of temper that become increasingly more frequent.  Watching the robust James Earl Jones boom with fury, crack down his cane and toss aside the card table, is a fearsome thing to behold.

These two acting veterans provide a lesson in professionalism.  The play is heavy in dialogue and the characters are written and performed with all the facets of having lived many years. They pass the days playing cards and exchanging stories of their lives.  They are lonely, have no visitors, and illustrate the theme of seniors forgotten in this society.  Providing company for each other, they have humorous memories and their dancing moment is undeniably tender.  Director Leonard Foglia adeptly maneuvers them around a small stage crowded with abandoned, forgotten furniture but these two actors forge through with convincing honesty.  

Riccardo Hernandez designed the stage set as well as the costumes and Fonsia's neat dress and handbag speak well for her character.  Similarly, Weller is casual with a cardigan or jacket over his shirt.

While sparse and deceptively subtle, D.L. Coburn's play with its rich performances by the blustering James Earl Jones and the steel magnolia, Cecily Tyson, can't help but leave you with the melancholy truth in Bette Davis' observation.

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