Thursday, March 8, 2018

REVIEW: The 'Gin Game' is More Exciting Than it Seems

Review of "The Gin Game" at Village Theatre
Marianne Owen and Kurt Beattie in The Gin Game (Village Theatre)

THEATRE REVIEW

At first glance, The Gin Game seems to have everything working against its success. The play features only two characters interacting within an old folks’ home with the action happening around a fold-up card table. Watching two seniors playing cards doesn’t sound like much to get excited about, but this Pulitzer Prize-winning play is full of surprises.

Some might mistake The Gin Game as a romantic comedy, but actually, the play has been described by some as a tragi-comedy which starts out rather benignly and then builds to strong finale. Weller is a fairly new resident at a home for seniors, but he acts like he has lived there for years. He’s lonely and bitter and plays solitaire to amuse himself. He doesn’t like any of the “old” people living there. One day during visitor hours, Weller meets Fonsia, an even newer resident to the home, skipping out on the festivities. Neither of them have any visitors to talk to. They strike up a conversation which leads to a friendly game of Gin Rummy. At first.

The two couldn’t be more different. Weller is outspoken, foul-mouthed and cranky. Fonsia is timid, a little religious and kind. Fonsia admits that she hasn’t played cards in years but Weller assures her that she’ll get the hang of it pretty quick. And she does. Fonsia has an impressive streak of beginner’s luck. Soon, though, the conversation becomes less about the game and more personal. As they chat, each begin to learn how alike they are. Weller begins to remind Fonsia of her former husband and in turn, Fonsia has some mannerism that remind Weller of his own mother, and these are not happy memories.

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The Gin Game stars Kurt Beattie and Marianne Owen, two Seattle theatre icons and real-life married couple. They play off each other beautifully with the help of director Jeff Steitzer. As is often the case at Village Theatre, the set design almost serves as a third character. The set (designed by Bill Forrester) is hugely over-sized for its small cast but it is incredible looking like a rundown dollhouse with most of the action happening on the sun porch.

Review of "The Gin Game" at Village Theatre
(Village Theatre)
Full of humor, the first half of the play is very enjoyable to watch. The duo's timing is perfect. Unfortunately, the second half of the play contains equal parts of humor and tension. We see that a thunderstorm in rising up in the background as a nice piece of foreshadowing. The two characters spar back and forth with more intensity and even more curse words. The more Fonsia asks to not take the Lord’s name in vain, the more Weller does it. The final scene gets pretty uncomfortable and then, poof, it’s over.

Although good, The Gin Game feels unfinished as if there is a lost third act to the production hidden away somewhere. Those wanting a more solid ending will be frustrated. Still, this is one play worth seeing these two local masters of the stage verbally chew up the scenery.

The Gin Game continues playing at the Everett Performing Arts Center through March 25. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 425-257-8600. The Arts Center is located at 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, WA 98201.

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