Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones, two wily, aged theatrical veterans, give masterful performances in the revival of D.L. Coburn’s Pulitzer Prize winning comedy-drama, The Gin Game. Friends in real life, Tyson (90 years old) and Jones (84 years old), have an easy rapport with each other that brings alive the story of two disparate individuals living in a rundown nursing home.
Through the card game of gin rummy Weller Martin (James Earl Jones) meets newcomer Fonsia Dorsey (Cicely Tyson) at their ramshackle residence. Martin, a self-professed gin rummy expert, entices Ms. Dorsey to play a hand to his everlasting regret. Through their subsequent games the audience learns about each person’s past and present life configurations. They also begin a sometimes raucous, often funny pas de deux as the two lonely, elderly tenants become more dependent on each other’s company.
D.L. Coburn’s play, as with the current production, can be a tour de force for seasoned actors. The playwright successfully uses the device of gin rummy to slowly tease out two interesting and compelling character studies. The show closes with an unsatisfactory ending but, nonetheless, the play is an entertaining and engaging piece of theater.
Cicely Tyson is wonderful as Fonsia Dorsey. She is mischievous, crafty and brings a spark of resilience to her character. Her mannerisms and facial expressions speak volumes. James Earl Jones’ Weller Martin is rude, a bully and a monumental sore loser. The actor, a gregarious and imposing presence, knows when and how to use his bearing to enhance his role. He can be a boisterous intimidator as well as a frisky, caring companion.
Director Leonard Foglia has the luxury of working with two acting legends. He lets them play out their theatrical virtuosity while intelligently guiding the production through its requisite paces, its bursts of energy and subtlety. For this revival of The Gin Game less intrusiveness by the director is more fitting.
The set by Riccardo Hernandez, an outdoor porch strewn with junk and residents’ clutter off to the side, is sufficiently rundown and evocative of a home for the aged.
The Gin Game, playing now at the John Golden Theater on Broadway through January 10th.