by Ryan Leeds
Senior citizens must really be irritated when people comment on their longevity. Like an adolescent at a family reunion who is forced to hear, “I remember when you were this big”, it must be tiresome when the younger crowd simplifies the lives of the elderly to a mere number, negating all of the years that have gone before it. Still, there is a quiet majesty in living gracefully in the “seasoned years” and we are fortunate to have two marvelous working actors who exemplify that grace.
An 84-year-old James Earl Jones and 90-year-old Cicely Tyson are currently starring in the Broadway revival of D.L. Coburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Gin Game, and the verdict? It’s wonderful. Reunited almost 50 years after sharing the Broadway stage in A Hand Is On The Gate, the two friends are back together in this poignant and funny two hander that is sure to please the most finicky theatergoer.
Fonsia Dorsey (Tyson) and Weller Martin (Jones) have recently moved into an unnamed home for the aged. Weller is intent on playing his card game and introduces Fonsia to his interest. Before long, the two acquaintances become friends and banter back and forth as though they’ve known each other all of their lives. Of course, with any friendship comes argument and the pair are quick to confront the others’ faults and failures, all while maintaining their composures during their frequent gin games.
Coburn’s script neither sugar coats the aging process, nor portrays it as something to fear. What is does show are real characters coming to terms with the lives behind them and what is yet to come. At one point, a cynical Weller observes that the home isn’t “anything more than a warehouse for the intellectually and emotionally dead. Nothing more than a place to store them until their bodies quit.”
When Fonsia responds that “It’s just the mercy of God that we’re able to get around a little better than they are and that “they’re just sick, that’s all”, a defiant Weller shoots back, “They’re not half as sick as the ones who put them here. And they’re not a third as sick as this bunch that’s supposed to be taking care of them.” How right he is. Fonsia and Weller are our parents and grandparents and we have no choice but question our decision to “store them” out of sight from our own beautifully manicured lives.
Ricardo Hernandez has created a looming and dilapidated set which will effectively give pause to anyone considering a retirement home for themselves or their loved ones. Leonard Foglia’s direction is as first rate as his cast. I doubt that I will be the only critic to call them theatrical “treasures”, but I’m pretty sure that if I look up the word in a thesaurus, I’ll see the names “James Earl Jones” and “Cicely Tyson.”
The Gin Game
252 West 45th Street, NYC
Through January 10, 2016
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.