Williamston Theatre Wins With a Classic. 3/29/2019
Williamston Theatre has delighted us over 13 years with fresh plays, funny plays, new plays and heartwarming plays.
This time they are digging into the trove of classic theater to present the Pulitzer Prize winner, “The Gin Game”. First opening in 1977, it became the star vehicle for Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronin.
The story is simple but powerful at the same time. It takes place on the patio of a not-very-fancy retirement home. It’s visitor’s day, but Weller Martin (Hugh Maguire) doesn’t have any visitors. And neither does Fonsia Dorsey (Ruth Crawford) who finds him shuffling cards on the patio card table.
They approach each other carefully, like two cats. They are both smart, sharp tongued, and eager for companionship.
The audience at once realizes that Crawford and Maguire are true professionals at their craft. Directing them is another professional and actor, Williamston’s Executive Director and frequent star, John Lepard.
At first, I marveled at the absolutely natural and realistic way the dialogue was created by playwright D.L. Coburn. I felt that this play was written so well that it couldn’t fail, even in the hands of average actors.
But I was wrong. Yes, the flow of the words, as Fonsia and Weller reveal their lives to each other, was seamless, the acting of Crawford and Maguire was filled with subtly, nuance and perfect timing. And it was that brilliant acting that made this such a memorable production.
When the two first meet, the arrogant Weller goes about “mansplaining” the game of gin rummy to Fonsia. She had never played gin before and Weller was ready to give her the ins and outs of the game.
But almost from the beginning, Fonsia understands the game perfectly and sets forth to trounce Weller in almost every match.
Fonsia comes across as a delightful, sweet, and principled Presbyterian lady. But we soon find out that there is far more to her than what we first see.
Even though “Gin Game” is 42 years old, there is nothing in the subject matter that makes it dated. And Crawford and Maguire create two characters with absolute believability. Their timing, humor, and reacting to each other make the conversations and relationship true.
The play is not all sweetness and light, as the retirees continue to play cards and talk. There is anger, swearing, vindictiveness and even violence. In fact, the explosions of anger and violence are important climaxes of the play and are superbly acted by Maguire.
Adding to the effectiveness of this production is the detailed set by Gabriella Csapo. The retirement home looks properly dilapidated and old (a bit like the residents).
Frankly speaking, I saw “Gin Game” decades ago, but now that I am closer to the age of these characters, the more real it becomes. But it’s OK, youngins’ will enjoy the play, too.
Performances through April 20, 2019