note: entire contents copyright 2017 by Richard Pacheco
D. L. Coburn’s Pulitzer Prize winning “The Gin Game” currently at Theatre One in Middleboro is bright, funny, well-acted and energetic full of convincing passion and humor. Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey, two elderly residents at a nursing home for senior citizens, strike up an acquaintance. Neither seems to have any other friends, and they start to enjoy each other's company. Weller offers to teach Fonsia how to play gin rummy, and they begin playing a series of games that Fonsia always wins. Weller's inability to win a single hand becomes increasingly frustrating to him, while Fonsia becomes increasingly confident.
While playing their games of gin, they engage in lengthy conversations about their families and their lives in the outside world. Gradually, each conversation becomes a battle, much like the ongoing gin games, as each player tries to expose the other's weaknesses, to belittle the other's life, and to humiliate the other thoroughly.
A two-person play can be very challenging. It demands a lot of the actors including a simpatico and connection that is front and center. You have that here with two very accomplished actors moving through the play with ease and astute comic timing.
Omer Courcy is Weller, a man confident in his ability to play bridge although not that thrilled with other aspects of his life. Due to his divorce he has lost touch with his eon. Bad business dealings left a bad taste in his mouth and he is upset to be in a nursing home with only one way out. He craves company and some kind of connection, some human contact and emotional richness that is lacking in his life. But he would be reluctant to mention it. It makes him ornery when it comes to playing gin. And it infuriates him with the novice Fonsia whips one him game after another pushing the limits on beginner’s luck to the breaking point.
Courcy is a delight, full of sass and impeccable comic timing. He can deftly gets laughs from his expression when warranted. His gestures and movement as well as line delivery is a delight. He does cranky with dexterity and finesse. He knows how to get the best out of it so does so.
Kathy Bourne is his match as the somewhat timid Fonsia. Fonsia is burdened by a life that did not go the way she would have liked. These various disappointments make her liberal with her story to put it mildly. She likes to appear the victim and the hands of a most unfortunate fate that continually grinds her down. She yearns to teach out for something, someone to connect with and somehow diminish her unhappiness and despair. Weller is it. Yet she is somewhat frightened by his temper and how seriously he takes playing gin. There is an attraction revulsion going on here that grows more intense and layered as they play more and more gin.
Bourne is a delight. She is full of energy and the right mix of timidity where needed. She can rise up and match Courcy’s rage or cower in self-defense as required. She too has excellent comic timing and is a good foil for Courcy. She is sincere in her portrayal with great poise and dexterity.
Director Peg Holzmer keeps her talented cast gliding along with purpose and dexterity. She deftly directs their tricky matter of their card playing while speaking their lines with impressive eye for detail and conviction and truthfulness. The card games do not even appear slightly false. She keeps the timing impeccable with the laughs coming fast and furious.
It is a solid and enjoyable production from beginning to end with some surprises and expertly acted.