By Sara Dudley Brown, Theater Editor
I saw The Gin Game in 1977 with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, and felt I had no real reason to see it again, since I had seen the definitive theatre couple perform it when they were absolutely at the top of their games. However, and that’s a BIG however, seeing it last night at MetroStage in Alexandria with another pair of truly professional actors made me realize there was much more to this show than I thought. And, this show is so ‘right now’—and so necessary to see for anyone who has older parents, siblings, or loved ones who may be having to adapt to new ways of living out their “golden years.” The ideas that Donald Coburn wove into his very first and subsequently, Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning show vibrantly bring to life feelings of loss and worthlessness people may be experiencing during what should be the loveliest and most carefree time of their lives. Roz White and Doug Brown imbue their characters with depths of charm and eruptions of emotion I don’t remember experiencing with Tandy and Cronyn.
This Gin Game is a master class in acting and theatre production. Roz White, whom I have seen in many terrific singing roles in the Metro area, proves she is a wonderful actress, and she brings it all to the challenging role of Fonsia Dorsey. I remember her powerhouse performances fondly in “Pearl Bailey…by Request” and “Three Sistahs,” both at MetroStage. Doug Brown is a consummate actor whom I’ve enjoyed over the years in many shows, especially in the original MetroStage production of Athol Fugard’s “The Island,” and “Two Trains Running” at Round House. His Weller Martin character in this show is unforgettable as he inhabits a man broken by life but trying through his years of proven prowess in gin rummy to show off and get the best of this new woman who may have as many secrets as he does.
The set and lighting design by Carl Gudenius, Shuxing Fan, and Alexander Keen, feels sturdy and a tad seedy, but exactly right with lush accents of flowers and greenery suggesting a porch and garden, a walker leaning against the wall, an overflowing stack of newspapers, warm light changing to lightening and rain when the occasion demands, and the constant murmuring of “Visitors Day” guests, reminding these two newcomers to the home that sadly, they don’t have and probably won’t have anyone come to visit them. Over the course of an intriguing two hours we hear a lively assortment of blues and jazz music by sound designer William Wacker wafting out of the home where the residents are being constantly entertained. Even without being aware of it, the two combatants can’t resist dancing (never mind a bum knee, or a bad back) or humming a little ditty (remember, Roz White is a marvelous singer!), while they face off at their interminable games of gin.
This show has it all—romance, comedy (the timing is spot on) and dramatic tension, as the stakes get higher and higher in Weller’s chosen games of gin, during which the two begin to open up to each other about the difficult life situations that brought them to this particular retirement home. The audience gets it also that these two, who seem to barely tolerate each other, actually are getting to know each other in ways unexpected by them and us. It’s delightful to spend time in their company.
Carolyn Griffin, Producing Artistic Director, has once again shown us that a smaller, more intimate space is needed in the metro area for exactly this kind of “must see” production! She has produced over 90 main stage productions for MetroStage since its inception in 1984. And Director Thomas W. Jones II once again shows that he hasn’t lost his magic touch in this production. You will experience the rewards of all his training and prowess in playwriting, lyric writing, and choreography in this beautifully acted, paced, and produced show.
The characters of Fonsia and Weller will be indelibly imprinted on your memory after witnessing their ups and downs of temperament and the fact that Fonsia simply cannot lose at gin, and Weller cannot believe she can pull off winning game after winning game after winning game! The games are quick and decisive, but the evening will linger in your memory as a sweet time spent with unforgettable old friends.
Performances are Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8. Saturdays at 3 and 8, Sundays at 3 and 7. The Gin Game runs through March 12. Order tickets at [email protected] or call 703-548-9044.