It’s a vehicle, nothing more, nothing less. The Gin Game is a light-weight comedy with just enough emotional fuel in it to ignite when you get two great actors in it. James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson are undeniably great actors, and this Gin Game does indeed ignite, even if it doesn’t quite satisfy.
But that lack of satisfaction is no fault of the actors – this play doesn’t so much wrap up as simply stop. Plus, while playwright D. L. Coburn does dig deep enough to find his character’s darker sides, he really doesn’t have anything meaningful to show us about those parts of their personalities.
Weller Martin (Jones) and Fonsia Dorsey (Tyson) meet on the porch of their dilapidated nursing home and they become friends as Weller teaches Fonsia how to play gin. Fonsia wins every hand, leading to a battle of wills that reveals what makes each of them tick. By the end of the play the gloves are off and they are really letting each other have it, and Tyson and Jones execute the verbal boxing with expert skill.
Jones uses that famous deep voice of his mostly to have Weller reassure Fonsia of his basically benign intent. But in an instant that rumble can turn into an authoritative roar, which works very well to communicate Weller’s hair-trigger temper.
On the surface Tyson’s Fonsia seems to be a warmly charming grandmother. However, Tyson has always had a biting sharpness just underneath her elegantly beautiful surface, and that fits the subtly manipulative Fonsia to a “T”.
Director Leonard Foglia has wisely kept things as light as possible – The Gin Game is at its best when we can enjoy the humor of the duo’s repartee. This just isn’t substantial enough material to lean heavily on the more painful truths Coburn every so often dredges up. An enjoyable, diverting evening spent with two expert performers, nothing more, nothing less.
For tickets, click here.
To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.