By Laura Fries
alexandrianews.org Theater Review
How do you play the hand that life has dealt you? That’s a main theme of D.L. Coburn’s two-person, two-act play, “The Gin Game.” MetroStage, known for big brassy musicals, tones it down with this dark, tragi-comedy about aging. An intimate, emotional play, it elicits just as many laughs as uncomfortable emotional outbursts.
Director Thomas W. Jones II creates a visually enticing but emotionally tumultuous set as the play looks at the relationship between two residents of the run-down Bentley Home for Seniors. Fonsia (Roz White) is new to Bentley and meets Weller (Doug Brown) on a little-used screened in porch of the home. Weller and Fonsia start a game of cards, seemingly to pass the time, but their history, fears and shortcomings are uncovered with every discard. The relationship between Fonsia and Weller seems congenial enough on the surface, but as the play goes on, it’s sort of like a “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf: The Later Years” as tempers, emotions and resentments bubble over. These two have built up walls with seemingly charming facades, and the play is essentially the two of them chipping away at ego defense mechanisms, all over several games of Gin.
It’s interesting, thought-provoking and very well done. It just may not be an all-around crowd pleaser. One wishes Jones would create a slower pace with less emotional restraint. The problem is, his actors are too charming. Both White and Brown are veterans of MetroStage who can bewitch the crowd. That tends to work at odds with the material here as they elicit more laughs than perhaps the script originally calls for.
The pace in which the characters unravel doesn’t feel as organic as it should. Brown plays Weller big from the get go, which seems fine for his character, a bombastic, ornery old man. But as the play goes on, it’s harder to distinguish the swagger from the real emotional blowups. White is such an engaging actress, she doesn’t appear as tightly wound as previous incarnations of Fonsia, so her emotional release is less complete.
Coburn’s play made its debut in 1976 and celebrated its heyday with a Pulitzer Prize in 1978. The subject matter remains somewhat timely today, as folks are living longer into financially difficult retirements, and gender power struggles like that between Weller and Fonsia are still relevant. The play also echoes the current baby boomer dilemma of caring for aging parents (although in this case, for various reasons, the kids have chosen not to care for these two characters.) The result is s slice-of-life play that, although well done, may be unsettling to some.
The production crew is on point with a stunning set, perfectly timed lights and sound cues. The play runs until March 12.