The Gin Game is a tromp through the emotional landscape of two people in a nursing home playing harmless games of Gin Rummy to pass the time — harmless as a heart attack.
The multiple Tony-nominated, Pulitzer Prize winning play has been performed since the 1970’s, first by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, then Charles Durning and Julie Harris on Broadway, and released on PBS starring Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke. What keeps actors licking their chops to sink their teeth into the succinct roles is the chance to portray depth and layers in these characters who transition before your eyes as secrets are revealed.
Adele Robey, as nursing home newcomer Fonsia Dorsey, enters the scene in tears, despondent over the meager prospects of institutionalized life while Dane Galloway’s Weller Martin is entrenched in the comings and goings of the place. He comes across as a gentle cynic disparaging all of the activities offered, from dancing – “just a bunch of old folks shuffling around in walkers” — to referring to funerals as the main social activity.
With an ever-present deck of cards, he invites Fonsia to join in a round and grows increasingly garrulous as she wins hand after hand. His uncanny ability to spot her inconsistencies and the gaps in her backstory gives him just enough leverage to metaphorically smack her around in retaliation, revealing his own vulnerabilities in the process.
Galloway and Robey, both seasoned performers and up to the challenge of plumbing the Pinteresque moments, are perfectly matched. They worked together in the Theatre Lab’s August: Osage County, and their trust and perfect balance with each other shows up in spades here. Galloway portrays the physical nuances of Weller as a wounded warrior who has made peace with passing the time playing solitaire in the recreational room as long as the world turns on schedule according to defined rules. He fixes himself up from the scraggy opening appearance and could have easily maintained a banal friendship with Fonsia had he not felt threatened by her consistent winning streak. Galloway’s Weller is a man who has carefully learned to control his rage unless something sparks it, and then…Boom!
Robey, a founding member of Theater Alliance, co-founder of the beloved former H Street Playhouse, and now of the Anacostia Playhouse, makes a triumphant return to the boards in this deliciously devilish portrayal of a heartbroken woman who would rather keep up appearances than face inner truths. With translucent expressions, and quiet mannerisms, Robey’s Fonsia is genuinely unaware of how much she has fictionalized her life, and blithely skips along the surface of the truths that she has carefully covered in paper mache. Only when she meets her match with Weller and his laser-beam incisions does she come to grips with her own realities.
The Gin Game
Closes February 2, 2014
2020 Shannon Place SE
1 hour, 25 minutes, no intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Director Robert Lutfy stokes the embers with a sure hand, assuring a steady and controlled pacing of the actors’ charges and retreats. All of the dynamics between the characters have to be just right, especially true of Fonsia who drops the nuggets of information she innocently shares only for Weller to scoop them up as ammunition. Several transitions are beautifully choreographed pas-de-deux where the actors circle the card table like prowling matadors sizing each other up before the next match.
In the press release, Lutfy shares his personal connection with the piece in witnessing – the “loneliness and tragedy” that so many experience in elder years. The Gin Game reflects how after-effects from the choices we make in life stay with us, even haunt us. The show works on multiple levels and offers yet another exciting opportunity to cross the river to Anacostia Playhouse.
The Gin Game by D. L. Coburn . Directed by Robert Lutfy . Featuring Adele Robey and Dane Galloway . Produced by Anacostia Playhouse . Reviewed by Debbie Jackson.