The Gin Game Still Explosive at Sierra Madre Playhouse

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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I said once before that no other theatre takes so much care and attention to the lobby elements that augment knowledge about a show in question.This time, it’s the game of Gin that gets all the attention, and the installation is worth a trip in itself!

How long has it been since any of us last played the game? In my case, I think I was in grade school. But for others, it’s an obsession. And to playwright D. L. Coburn’s credit, he hangs his deeply affecting tale about ageism onto this marathon treatment of the game in a retirement home back in the late 70s.

Husband and wife team, Katherine James and Alan Blumenfeld play Fonsia Dorsey and Weller Martin, respectively.  Both have wound up in the Bentley Home for the Aged, which is a low-income retirement facility, and they soon become friends over Weller’s obsession with the game of Gin Rummy.

Although Fonsia is a reluctant player, she is really more skilled than Weller, which leads to a classic case of gender discrimination, as she shows him up time after time. With the playing of each game, Weller become more and more agitated at Fonsia’s luck, until (sure enough, it’s time for the end of Act One), he declares that he will never speak to her again.

Never fear. Act Two brings them back together, for return matches. The more Fonsia tries to extract herself from competition, the more Weller is insist. Playwright Coburn’s treatment of the two reveals complex gender politics, lovely new connections in the lives of two lonely people, and the underlying motivations that drive each person’s actions. James and Blumenfeld are cohesive as the two elderly players, and under Christian Lebano’s well paced dynamic, their relationship builds slowly until the play’s explosive ending.

Sierra Madre’s increasingly professional approach to theatre renders another masterful production technically as well as artistically. I was particularly struck by the beamed ceiling designed and executed by Tesshi Nakagawa. Normally, a ceiling would obstruct the lighting design in a standard proscenium stage, but Derek Jones handles the challenge beautifully. Costuming by Liz Nankin recall the halcyon days of the 70s, with only the sound cues a little shaky on opening night.

The Gin Game continues Fridays and Saturdays at 2:30 PM and 8:00 PM; through October 6th at Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre 91024. Tickets, $20.00. Phone (626) 355-4318.  For online ticketing: www.sierramadreplayhouse.org.