Monday, July 26, 2010

Theater Review by Irv Rikon: THE GIN GAME at Palm Beach Dramaworks

Most human beings want some sort of company. At bottom, we're social animals. But sometimes life plays cruel tricks, and we lose the company we most cherish. When we get older, what happens next? That's the primary question raised in D.L. Coburn's 1978 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Gin Game, on view at PALM BEACH DRAMAWORKS in downtown West Palm Beach through August 15.

Fonsia Dorsey and Weller Martin are two people who meet at the Bentley Retirement Home, where they are residents. Weller invites the woman to play a card game, gin, with him. She doesn't really know how to play, but he instructs her, and she's grateful for the company, so she accepts his invitation. All starts off gently, but in each of the four scenes in this two-act play, the going gets rougher. The two progressively reveal more of themselves, their loneliness and the cause of it, their lack of money and why they can't afford to live in a more luxurious place. It's not that the place is bad: background noises suggest it's lively and not unfriendly. But these two have problems; eventually, they turn on each other, physically and emotionally, bringing out the worst in both of them.

The play has been successfully performed all over the world, and if you've never seen it, it's worth your attention. But to be honest, the play has been over-produced, and considering that these are two very unhappy individuals, it's not the kind of thing one wants to see again and again, especially as one involuntarily finds one's self participating in the aging process. The evening I attended the performance, people in the audience were talking of having seen the original production starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.

Yet if you are familiar with The Gin Game, you should watch see this play if only to see the two stars, Barbara Bradshaw and Peter Haig, at work. They are better than Hume and Jessica, Charles and Julie and others I've seen in these roles. All were good and praiseworthy. But this pair is the best. Just watch Miss Bradshaw talk about her son in a confrontational scene. Chances are, you'll never forget it. Barbara Bradshaw. Peter Haig. Both live in this area and perform here fairly frequently. Long ago they ought to have become Broadway stars -- yes, they are that good -- and one supposes that only wrong timing or simple bad luck kept them from the marquees of The Big Apple. Yes, watch them, and see if you don't agree. I should say a few words about J. Barry Lewis, who directed. Flawless directing. Mr. Lewis likewise belongs among that special group of people who do things just right virtually every time.

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