Bob Boyett, Jon Bierman, Jamie deRoy, Eric Falkenstein
James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson
The Gin Game
(The Gin Game Website)
By D.L. Coburn
Directed by Leonard Foglia
252 West 45th Street
New York, NY
Scenic and Costume Design by Riccardo Hernandez
Lighting Design by Jules Fisher + Peggy Eisenhauer
Sound Design by David Van Tieghem
Hair Design by Paul Huntley
Technical Supervision: Hudson Theatrical Associates
Production Stage Manager: Jill Cordle
Advertising and Marketing: Serino/Coyne
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
General Management: Bespoke Theatricals
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 15, 2015
The list of quintessential, master acting performances of the past several years includes James Earl Jones in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, Driving Miss Daisy, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, and You Can’t Take it With You. Thinking back a decade, how can we forget his lead in On Golden Pond. And, Cicely Tyson’s lead role a couple of years ago in The Trip to Bountiful was mesmerizing. One could dash off lists of roles of a dozen luminous Broadway stars, but, in this case, Mr. Jones is almost 85, and Ms. Tyson is almost 91. Their performance tonight, in D.L. Coburn’s The Gin Game, as the only actors onstage in this most impressive production, was more than astounding. Neither actor ever stumbled on a line, ever missed a cue, or ever looked worse for the wear. And, to think they manage eight shows a week, matinees and evenings, they deserve the highest theatrical accolades. They not only master the dialogue but also exude agitation, loss, yearning, loneliness, emptiness, remorse, and even hopeful optimism. As two elderly loners, living in a low-income senior home, their world is a metal bridge table, two mismatched shabby chairs, and a deck of cards. The game they play is called gin rummy.
Weller Martin (Mr. Jones) invites Fonsia Dorsey (Ms. Tyson) to keep him company with a harmless game of gin. Mr. Jones’ renowned vocal baritone became a one-man brass band of profanities, when the petite Ms. Tyson started winning hand after hand, calling out “gin”, with more confidence, game after game. When Weller accuses her of cheating, of never having won at all, each actor exudes pride and vulnerability at once, steering their own impulses and emotions to avoid an irrevocable rupture of a relationship that each needs for inner strength and self-respect. Both Weller and Fonsia have endured long-lasting family estrangement, and, in terrifying immediacy, residents in their home sometimes don’t wake up. A most breathtaking moment occurs when Weller finally gives in to Fonsia’s desire to dance. He just puts out his hand, and, ever so close, they sway to the rhythms wafting from the offstage gathering in the opaque interior. Those covered windows, through which Fonsia occasionally peers, are metaphors for the unforeseen years and months ahead. Ms. Tyson exudes humble humor, especially when she builds courage to mimic Weller’s verbal putdowns, and Mr. Jones exudes generosity of spirit, especially when he resumes to shuffling the deck.
Leonard Foglia has poignantly and masterfully directed this rare duo with a sense of natural nuance and plenty of breathing room. When Mr. Jones takes time to find the table, shoved behind layers of broken, deteriorating furniture and a throwaway refrigerator, and then set it up and lock the legs into place, the audience remains glued. Riccardo Hernandez has designed the sad façade of the senior home, with its peeling clapboards and covered windows. Mr. Hernandez’ costumes for Ms. Tyson include dress-down pajama bottoms or nightgown, thrown together with a bit of day clothing, as well as one dress-up suit with pearls and proper gloves. Her handbag is omnipresent. Mr. Jones wears a basic wardrobe of shirt and pants, then a suit and tie. The dress-up plans morph into that momentary, longed for dance, an interlude to cards and confidences. The Fisher-Eisenhauer lighting design shifts from daytime warm to evening porchlight, and the Van Tieghem sound design allows even the softest comment to project across the rows. At the end of two hours, I could have sat through this play all over again. Kudos to Ms. Tyson. Kudos to Mr. Jones.