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BWW Review: James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson Are Aces at THE GIN GAME

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D.L. Coburn wrote he was, "caught between anger and dismay," to read a feature article about the premiere production of The Gin Game that referred to his play as "a comedy-drama."

Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The fledgling playwright was worried that audiences were going to come in expecting to laugh.

When done well, Coburn's Pulitzer-winner about a man and a woman who bond over playing cards in their nursing home does get a good number of laughs that soften its tragic undercurrent and director Leonard Foglia's new Broadway production certainly doesn't underplay them as James Earl Jones' bellowing and indignant Weller Martin is matched with Cicely Tyson's prim and independent Fonsia Dorsey.

But Foglia also keeps the indignities of aging continually before us with set designer Riccardo Hernandez's crumbling nursing home exterior that has a pile of supplies just thrown haphazardly into one corner; once-useful items now symbolically cramped together in a small space, not quite completely disguarded.

"A warehouse for the intellectually and emotionally dead," is how Weller describes his current home to new resident, Fonsia, who is still adjusting after three weeks.

Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The divorced Weller can use a gin partner to help pass the time, and though the divorced Fonsia says she's only played a bit, she catches on immediately and wins every hand they play.

As they discuss what their lives were like before landing in the home, Weller's frustration at continually losing reflects his frustration for being a failure as a businessman. Fonsia has had her share of rough times but she tends to land on her feet.

As the controlling Weller becomes more exasperated at his continual losses, his demeanor turns more forceful, and Fonsia finds herself venturing out of her comfort zone for her own protection.

If THE GIN GAME is a little thin on plot to fill out its two acts, it serves splendidly as a star vehicle for beloved senior actors. There's nothing unexpected about the performances of Tyson and Jones, but they play their hands beautifully and when the script calls for them to hesitantly hold each other in a slow dance, there's not an unmelted heart in the house.


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