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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE GIN GAME
at John Golden Theater

COMPETING HANDS
By BERNARD CARRAGHER

  Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Except for the summer’s mega-musical hit Hamilton, most of the shows that have opened on Broadway this fall have been revivals. It seems like an air of lugubriousness has taken over the Great White Way.
 
The best is The Gin Game. When it opened in 1977 with a flawless cast of Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn – staged by Mike Nichols, whose talent made this moderate play into a boffo work of art – it won that year's Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Now, it is back at the John Golden Theater on West 45th Street, where it first premiered, with another faultless acting duo – James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson.
 
Jones plays the elderly, cranky codger Weller Martin, and Tyson is Fonsia Dorsey, a fastidious local senior lady. They are both alone, having landed in a drab, second-tier old-folks home called the Bentley. Fonsia would have preferred the nearby Presbyterian home, but they ask everyone to give them all their money before they will take you in.
 
Fonsia and Weller accidentally meet on the Bentley's dull-gray front porch while the rest of the residential clan is greeting Sunday visitors. Fonsia was married for four years and has a son who has moved to Denver. Weller has three children, but they left town with their mother after the divorce. Fonsia says she has chronic diabetes, while Weller is in good health except for old age.
 
Weller has a main side interest: cards, specifically the game of gin. Fonsia says she used to occasionally play cards and it was called “rummy.” She guesses that it was “gin rummy.” Weller asks her to join him for a match. Weller brags that he is a master of the game and she will be his fledgling player. Of course, Fonsia is a fast learner and quickly humiliates Weller by winning the first game and several that follow. Her competitive spirit drives Weller mad. Their rows become classic, like Shakespeare's warring Petruchio and Katharina sparring in The Taming of the Shrew. When Weller starts raging at Fonsia for always winning, his shoulders hunch, while she stands motionless listening to him. She then says she enjoys his company, but doesn't like his improper language or his fatuous talk. Later she suggests he should see a psychiatrist.
 
In the1977 Mike Nichols version of the play, it was directed more as a drama with a comic edge. Here, under the staging of Leonard Foglia and like the 1997 production that starred Julie Harris and Charles Durning, the emphasis is on the comedy. What brings out the touching drama of the work is the artistry of the two actors. They are a rare pair of perfectionists that never err. As costars they act together in perfect rapport. For Jones, 84, and Tyson, who will be 91 in December, age has had no effect on their histrionic skills.
 
The Gin Game creates a fascinating picture of human pressures that impinge on men and woman struggling on their own for some kind of existence against their aging years. Jones and Tyson are great actors, and their performances are the joys of the fall season.

 


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