Monday, April 1, 2013

The Gin Game—Artists Repertory Theatre—SW Portland

Deal Me a Life

This two-character, Tragi-Comedy is written by D.L. Coburn and directed by JoAnn Johnson and stars theatre veterans, Allen Nause and Vana O’Brien.  It plays through April 28th at ART, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave.  For more information and tickets go to www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

The Gin Game opened on Broadway in the late 70’s and starred the husband and wife team of Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn.  The play won a Pulitzer Prize and Ms. Tandy won a Tony for Best Actress.  (I also believe a film for television was made of this play.)  It toured the U.S. with these two, playing to sold-out houses.

This story is about a gin game, only on the surface.  The cards are simply a ruse to suck you into the underpinnings of the loneliness and despair of two old people, sinking below the undulations of life, perhaps, for the last time.  A flare has gone up, a white flag waved but is there anybody onshore who is alert to the struggle…or even cares.  It may be hell to get old, but it may be even worse to disappear without anyone even knowing you’ve been here.

And so, Weller (Alan Nause) and Fonsia (Vana O’Brien) reach, possibly for the last time, for that invisible life-line called human contact.  They have both been successful in love and/or business, then lost.  Had children, now estranged.  Had money/property, now gone.  The sum of their existence now hinges on the relationship they attempt to forge, in this run-down, leaky, dilapidated retirement home.

And so, they play gin.  And as they play, they talk.  And, as they talk, they become humorous, revealing and sometimes down-right nasty.  Weller has a bad temper and is, to put it mildly, a poor loser.  And he loses almost every game.  His life has taken a similar route.  Fonsia may be lucky at cards but her life has ended up in the discard pile.  Win, lose or knock, they are like two sinking ships, reaching out for the other to save them.  Whispers, perhaps, of George and Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

This play is nothing without the rapport of these two characters.  And, as far as Mr. Nause and Ms. O’Brien go, if cards are the spice of life, they are the King and Queen!  These two veterans of the boards fight, dance, laugh, cry and, of course, plays cards together, with such abandon, that you feel you could watch them forever.  They are the best it gets in acting—natural, and finding the truth within these characters.  A talent devoutly to be wished for, but not often seen.  For those connoisseurs, of these kinds of relics and rarities, this play is alive with it.

The director, Ms. Johnson, seems to have keen insight into human foibles, as she leads her cast delicately among the mine fields, keeping the action flowing but relishing the pauses, as well.  The set, by Jeff Seats, is appropriately littered with the discards of human existence.  This show deserves a bigger house than it had (probably because of the Easter holiday).  But it is worthy of your notice.  If you are currently a theatre aficionado, this will cement your relationship.  If a newbie, this will open up another passion for you.

A side note, Mr. Nause has been the Artistic Director of ART since the late 80’s.  He has now chosen to pass on the baton to another, Damaso Rodriguez.  Although, I’m sure, he is a good choice, it is sad to see an era passed from the hands of such a talented director, actor and leader of theatre.  He has said he will continue to pursue directing and acting positions and I, for one, certainly hope he does.  But “notice must be taken,” he is the best of the best, in my opinion!  My hat is off to him.

Obviously, I recommend this play highly, mainly for the acting.  But, be warned, it does have rough language.  If you choose to see it, tell them Dennis sent you.