Theater: The Gin Game Is Riveting

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Tyson and Jones--Two masters on top of their game


Review By Ennaid

Time has been kind to actors Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones and fans of the theatre can count this as a blessing. 

In  D.L Colburn'’s  Pulitzer Prize winning  play “The Gin Game”  currently  in a limited run at the Golden Theatre on Broadway,  the characters Weller Martin (Jones) and Fonsia Dorsey (Tyson)  have been dusted- off  and  rebirthed  by this legendary  duo  in a performance that succeeds in being both riveting and a pleasure to behold.

Director Leonard Foglia has chosen the right moment to revive a play (original was in 1976) with a theme that is not just timeless but timely. In this two-person, two act play , Weller and Fonsia  have  lived out  the  biblical  three -scores-and- ten  years and alike many a present-day senior citizen are  reluctant residents of an old-folks' home – he, refusing to engage with  his fellow residents and she,  feeling  somewhat  alienated as well.

They both are  disappointed victims  of this  life-  lamenting financial  woes,  failed marriages  and family abandonment with Weller choosing to languish  in self- imposed seclusion  while a hapless  Fosnia   is lonely and fretful. They would   attempt to bond through the game of gin rummy which he eagerly teaches her to play. As this pastime progresses filled with conversations about their lives, it unveils the troubles that plague these two individuals, tugging at our heartstrings in the process.
The opening scene introduces the audience to a dispirited Weller with seclusion on his mind, seated amidst the discard on the porch of the retirement home.   An entire half of the porch- his hideout of choice - is marred by   an unsightly pile of junk akin to a hoarder’'s chaos- a scene that mirrors the harsh reality of Weller's and Fosnia’'s predicament.  As he   uproots himself from   the mess   alerted by   Fonsia'’s  plaintive  utterances,  the audience , like Weller,  is eager  to welcome  Ms. Tyson to  the porch  in all her  petite and pristine  prettiness. 

Jones’' embodiment of old-man Weller’'s   persona is perfect - Weller’'s cane -assisted gait combined with Jones’' cadences are on point. He is immediately convincing as the crass, persistent Weller   pitch perfect as he entices Fonsia to indulge him in the game of “gin”. His reacquainting her with the game is, ironically, the beginning of his undoing.  The first glimpse of his brash disposition  peeks out  here as  he dealt the cards -hurried  and  anxious-  his elevated  voice drowning out  Fonsia’'s  attempts to finish a sentence . His frustration and confusion fuelled by her winning streak provided hilarious moments for the audience and to Fonsia (acted with a straight- face and aplomb by Ms. Tyson) as well.

As his irrepressible anger erupts   evoking our exasperation as it did Fonsia’'s we choose a side- her side. Cicely'’s small   frame and frail voice in stark contrast to Jones’' imposing stature as he roared through his frustration worked well in arousing our sensibilities. Though  Fonsia   was forced to  compromise her “good-upbringing” and regretfully abandon her genteelness by echoing   Weller’'s profanities  when provoked, she  maintained her dignity and resilience, reminiscent of the Ms. Jane Pitman  and Carrie Watts (Trip to Bountiful)  roles  for which Ms. Tyson won accolades.

The dynamic of their relationship is brilliantly portrayed, highlighting both actors' mastery at their craft- Jones as the frustrated goad and Tyson the tough though physically frail warrior.  In one of their more agreeable moments  they  embraced in a dance having succumbed  to  the  lure of  house  music  a door panel away from the isolating porch.

There is a sense of relief at this tender moment- the brevity of it disappoints– as conflict soon returns dashing our hopes of what promised to be the beginning of a wholesome companionship. Fate had dictated otherwise, their happy ending seemed unlikely. Colburn’s   Weller and Fonsia   though fictitious are more true-to-life and thus more mishmashy- complex characters tailor-made for the ageless acting skills of Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones.

The final performance for The Gin game is scheduled for January 10, 2016.

This gem of a play is a testament to the talents of these two icons; one more chapter in their illustrious careers that we’'re lucky to experience and will continue to cherish as we await another.

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