"The Gin Game,” a two-character play by D.L. Coburn that was first performed in 1976 and went on to a 15-month run on Broadway, is the Off-Broadstreet Theater’s current offering.
The play has an interesting history. It was Coburn’s first, and it rather remarkably catapulted him into the big time. Its initial Los Angeles production, in a tiny small-time theater, caught the attention of the artistic director of the Actors Theater of Louisville, who sent on a copy to established stage and film actor Hume Cronyn. Cronyn was taken with the script and was able to arrange for, and play in, a Broadway production with his wife, film and stage performer Jessica Tandy, as the female lead and Mike Nichols as the director. The show opened to rave reviews and ran from October, 1977, through the end of 1978. The show won a Pulitzer, and Tandy received a Tony and a Drama Desk award.
The play’s action takes place in “a home for the aged.” Fonsia Dorsey, here played by Carol Mancini, has unenthusiastically entered the home, and is saved from melancholy by Weller Martin, played by OBT veteran Doug Kline, who invites Fonsia to join him on the porch for a game of gin rummy. The two seem to become close as they continually shuffle and lay out their cards. And both are relieved to have found each other: most of the other residents seem boring to them, and most of them seem to have more visitors than they do. However, it doesn’t take long for Weller to become frustrated by the fact that although he has played gin all his life and just taught Fonsia how to play she wins all the time.
While the peaceful situation explodes. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything for the potential OBT audience by pointing out that since this is a comedy, the ending is not dire. Along the way, there are some treats. In addition to the clever dialogue, the actors are both adept at conveying the tension that grows as the two characters concentrate on their cards and their next move, and nothing else is happening at that moment.
Calling Doug Kline an Off-Broadstreet veteran obscures the number and importance of the roles he’s had with the theater, most recently in “Pygmalion.” He has also appeared with Boheme Opera Company, Westwind, and ActorsNet. And Carole Mancini is singularly well suited for this role: in her day job she serves as a geriatric care manager. In addition to having performed at Off-Broadstreet, she has also appeared at community theaters in Newtown, Bensalem, and Philadelphia.
Both win praise for their skill at keeping the audience’s attention throughout this two-character play, not a trivial achievement, especially when one considers the quiet pauses necessary to bring natural rhythms and realism to the play.
Direction and design are both in Robert Thick’s hands, and the costumes are by Ann Raymond. Dominating the set is the porch of the old-folks home, where Dorsey and Martin play their endless rounds of gin.
Despite the clutter on the porch that has accumulated as people dump crutches and walkers and all sorts of other stuff along with their relatives, it is an attractive space. There’s enough room for the two characters to move around among the chairs and off the porch as well. As is usually the case with Ann Raymond’s designs, the costumes are attractive without calling undue attention to themselves. And as is also usually the case when Thick is directing, the production concentrates on conveying what’s important about the show, not how clever the people who put it together are.
The Gin Game, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Through Saturday, November 8, Friday and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Dessert served an hour before show, $27 to $31.50. 609-466-2766 or www.off-broadstreet.com.