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BWW Review: Great Performances Highlight St. Louis Actors' Studio's THE GIN GAME

When it comes to classifying THE GIN GAME, it's a bit of a sticky wicket. On the cover of Donald Coburn's play it says it's a tragicomedy, and yet it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. No wonder my fellow critics and I felt a bit confused as to where it should fall categorically. Personally, the amount of humor present leads me to side with way the play was published. Probably the most famous couple to play the leads in this two person play were Hume Croyn and Jessica Tandy, but many, many others have revived the play over the years. Luckily for you, the current production of this engaging and entertaining work features two of St. Louis' finest actors; Linda Kennedy and Peter Mayer. Under the guidance of director John Contini, this pair provide a wonderful experience that deserves your time and attention. Go see it.

Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey play residents of The Bentley Home for Seniors who become well acquainted with one another. Weller takes the time to teach Fonsia how to play gin rummy. And, maybe he teaches her a little too well, because he continually finds himself on the losing end of their games, much to his considerable consternation. But, it's over the course of these battles that they open up about their lives and families. Often these conversations become a bit heated as they, like some card players are well known do, try to get under each others skins with barbed comments that are sometimes a bit humiliating. Even so, there's something between them that keeps them coming back for more.

Peter Mayer and Linda Kennedy are both superb. I could stop right there and I would have said it all, but you'd probably want to know why I think that way. Well, it's because both actors are fully vested in their characters. Mayer and Kennedy are giving us a masters class in acting with these stellar performances. They show how subtle nuances can be just as effective as the intensity that is sometimes on display. The supreme compliment that both deserve is that you actually believe they are who they're playing. That's the way it should always be, but sometimes acting can be more transparent. Not in this case. And, that's a big part of what makes this play come to life in such transcendent fashion.

John Contini directs with skill, taking a piece that could become static due to the very nature of the material, and making it a much more lively affair. It's still built around the gin games themselves, but there's enough movement and interplay to easily draw in the viewer for the duration. Cristie Johnston creates a wonderful back porch for them to play out their hands. It's a little rustic, but also homey and nicely conceived and constructed. Dalton Robison's lighting is straight forward for the most part, but that acts to keep our attention keenly focused on this pair as they verbally spar over their game of cards. Carla Landis Evans pulls double duty, crafting effective costumes, and supplying the proper props.

THE GIN GAME is a classic play that's oft performed, although I can't recall a recent production in St. Louis, even though there's probably been one somewhere. This production by The St. Louis Actors' Studio lives up the name of the company. It's truly a showcase for the actors, and that makes it required viewing. The play continues through December 20, 2015 at the Gaslight Theater.

Photo credit: John Lamb



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