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The Gin Game Squares Off at Theatre Three

by Mike Cutino
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Barbara Anne Kirshner

Theatre Three is currently treating audiences to its must see production of The Gin Game!

When the lights go up on this stage, the audience instantly knows it is in the hands of two veteran actors who take their craft to another level as they bring to life the complicated characters of Weller Martin (Bradlee Bing) and Fonsia Dorsey (Marci Bing). Part of the onstage chemistry of these actors may be due to their offstage 39 year marriage. Their comfort level and trust in each other is apparent as they navigate through the increasingly combative relationship of these two mismatched characters competing through rounds of gin rummy as they gradually slash into each other revealing truths about their former lives outside this retirement home. It quickly becomes apparent that these card games represent much more than simple games, they are a perfect metaphor for life.

Donald L. Coburn’s two-person tragicomedy premiered September 1976 at American Theater Arts in Hollywood then quickly made it to Broadway October 6, 1977, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy who in 1978 won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. That same year, The Gin Game won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The 1997 Broadway revival starred Charles Durning and Julie Harris with direction by Charles Nelson Reilly. In 2015, the play returned to Broadway under the direction of Leonard Foglia and starring James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson.

Directed with sensitivity by Colleen Rebecca Britt, the comedic moments during several rounds of card play help to make these characters endearing. Of special note is the choice to have Mr. Bing enter and move to center stage before the play begins. He arranges a card table and chair center stage, then sits and seems to be engaged in a round of solitaire. That simple bit sets up the play.

The characters are quickly developed during the first round of gin rummy when Bradlee Bing’s Weller takes control of the game saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll keep score all the time.” He gruffly pounds each card that he deals out on the table leaving the unsettling impression of a bear circling his prey.

Marci Bing’s Fonsia appears fragile with a gentle spirit and lyrical quality in her soft voice. At first she seems surprised at her good fortune in winning against a seasoned card player and blurts out, “Well, I think I’m sitting here with gin in my hand already!” 

The tension builds as she continues to win each game causing Weller to become increasingly blustery until he can’t take it anymore and yells, “Can’t you lose just once?!” 

As Weller’s frustration builds with the loss of each game, he resorts to bullying and cursing. Fonsia responds in a skillful passive-aggressive manner delicately shaking off his anger though inwardly she is a fierce competitor.

As the games continue, inner secrets are revealed. Weller confesses to disappointments in his life; to being outmaneuvered by his business partners and alienated from his children. It comes to light that Fonsia too is estranged from her son whom she hasn’t seen in over a year. Sadly, these two have no hopes of seeing family on visitors’ day. The play builds to an explosive crescendo followed by a surprise ending.

It is interesting to note that a gin in the Bible was a trap for birds, but in this case who traps whom?

Bradlee and Marci Bing hold us in the palms of their hands, taking us on a profound ride pitting will against will.

Randall Parsons has constructed an appropriately dingy set with a backdrop of gray walls representing the porch of the Bentley Nursing Home and props strewn about including crutches up left, laundry basket overflowing with clothes up right, screen doors that squeak as they open and shut, a swing down right for the more intimate moments and the ever present card table and two simple folding chairs center stage.

Jason Allyn’s costumes are thoughtful with seemingly floating dresses on Mrs. Bing that punctuate her frailty. Mr. Bing’s costumes start with an unkept plaid robe when he doesn’t care about being disheveled, but becomes well-groomed and dressed in jacket, tie, button down shirt and trousers as he tries to impress Fonsia.

Theatre Three’s The Gin Game is startlingly real in the hands of Bradlee and Marci Bing making this a production worth seeing.

Now playing through February 3, 2024.

Box Office-631-928-9100. 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson.