D.L. Coburn’s play The Gin Game is story of never giving up. The wonderfully stoic James Earl Jones as Weller Martin opposite the great Cicely Tyson as Fonsia Dorsey provides the audience with enough chemistry that the room may have exploded. Champion Casting hit a gold mine with these two actors, and they were enough to have the audience on their feet at the beginning of play. However, these two actors truly earn their early applause. Leonard Foglia directs these two to the moon and back.
Set in an old folks’ home, two elderly characters find themselves alone on their visitor’s day again and again. Weller sees Fonsia, sitting alone and offers, or should I say, demands that she play gin with him. Throughout the many games of gin the two entail, we learn that Weller and Fonsia were both looking for some answers as to how they ended up in this low-end elderly facility, and with no visitors to boot. The audience is gifted time and time again with winsome witticisms delivered impeccably by James Earl Jones, and the captivating comedic timing of Cicely Tyson. Their characters wistfully take turns calling each other out before their time on this Earth is up. Its up to Weller and Fonsia to help each other learn that they only have themselves to blame for the way things turned out.
Truthfully, The Gin Game could be set with James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson performing on an empty black stage, and the play still would be a smash. However, by the graces of set designer Riccardo Hernandez, the audience is enriched with an alluring set that transforms the Golden Theatre into the backyard porch of an old rural farmhouse. There are piles of useless items on the back porch, which give Weller many entertaining places to lose his gin rummy scorekeeping sheet. The set design reiterates from the dialogue of the play, that there is more to life than all of the material things you collect in your life. Those objects mean nothing without you there to describe them and eventually those materials will end up abandoned at the bottom of someone else’s junk pile. Ricardo Hernandez helps deliver that message with his beautifully intricate set design, which even includes the rain of a Summer afternoon thunderstorm glistening off the porch roof (illuminated beautifully by Lighting Designers: Peggy Eisenhower and Jules Fisher). It feels like a place we’ve all visited before, and sets the mood for reflection while mirroring the many people inside the home left behind by their loved ones.
The set may stay the same through both acts, but the stage management and crew deliver seamless costume changes throughout the play and deserve to be commended. Each day that Fonsia grows fonder of Weller, so do her adorable costumes.
Review By: Kira Redzneck
Photos By: Joan Marcus