Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bunbury’s “Gin Game” Is a Heartfelt Production of a Funny and Touching Play

The Gin Game

Written by D.L. Coburn
Directed by Juergen K. Tossman

Reviewed by Keith Waits

Entire contents copyright © 2012 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

For those of a certain age (at least as old as me) or erstwhile historians of local theatre history, we know Louisville has an important claim on this play. As Juergen Tossman’s program notes remind us, The Gin Game was given an early production at Actors Theatre – one of the first entries in the Humana Festival of New American Plays in 1977. (Was it even called that back then?) It was a hit in New York and has been a popular choice in theatres around the country ever since.

Matt Orme & Liz Vissing in The Gin Game.
Photo courtesy of Bunbury Theatre.
Certainly it is an economical play to produce: an aging couple playing gin for 90 minutes will not strain anyone’s budget, but more importantly, it is also economical in its storytelling. A lean and focused script heavy on dialogue that delineates the developing friendship between two contrasting characters: the irascible and quick-tempered Weller Martin, played by Bunbury mainstay Matt Orme; and the sweet-natured Fonsia Dorsey, played by Liz Vissing. Four sharply written scenes full of humor, rage, and tenderness chart a modestly scaled but nonetheless affecting relationship that assiduously avoids clichés enough to remain fresh and meaningful to audiences more than 35 years after it was written.

The script is fertile ground for two good actors to work in, and this production features fine work from a couple of veteran players. Liz Vissing never gets too prim and proper, and balances the character’s lack of guile with a nice starchy quality. Matt Orme builds his frustration with such care and intelligent observation that Weller’s explosive anger seems entirely natural. Together they discover the humor organically, from within the story, anchoring their work in the humanity of the characters. The discipline of the performances perfectly matches the restraint of the script.

The production is beautifully designed by Steve Woodring, who gives the spare but nicely detailed setting an understated, rueful flavor, with equally no-nonsense but still evocative costumes by Thomas Leigh.

Bunbury has delivered a swift yet heartfelt reading of a funny and touching play that has never worn out its welcome. The Gin Game hasn’t been around Louisville for some time, and it would be a shame to let this one pass by. You have one more weekend to catch it.

The Gin Game

February 9-26, 2012

Bunbury Theatre
at the Henry Clay
604 S. Third St.
Louisville, KY
(502) 585-5306

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