Theater: “Gin Game” shows glimpses of a winning hand

Oct 16, 2007 at 5:19 pm

‘The Gin Game’
Starring Mary Ann Johnson and Marvin Perryman. Directed by Debra Rice Endris. Presented by The Drama Studio. Continues Oct. 20 at St. Genesius Theatre, 128 E. Bell Ave., Clarksville. For tickets, call (812) 284-0280 or visit

“The Gin Game,” which opened at Actors Theatre’s first Humana Fest in 1976, has an illustrious history. Jon Jory, ATL’s former artistic director, brought it to the attention of Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, who then sent it to Mike Nichols. He directed the actors in the Tony award-winning production that opened on Broadway in 1977. The next year, playwright D.L. Coburn received a Pulitzer Prize for his work.

In the Drama Studio’s production, Weller Martin (Marvin Perryman) and Fonsia Dorsey (Mary Ann Johnson) meet at a home for senior citizens. Having no friends, they strike up an uneasy friendship over a game of gin rummy. They share snippets of their lives, and, as Fonsia wins every hand, Weller becomes frustrated. Like the characters’ relationship, this is not an easy play, as its playwright has noted. It demands that only two actors carry the entire production — driving the momentum while allowing the audience glimpses into the core of these characters.

I came to this production expecting Perryman would deliver on all counts, having seen him in July in the As Yet Unnamed Theatre Co.’s production of “Look Homeward Angel.” He was the most mesmerizing actor in that staging, playing an alcoholic father who showed a heartfelt wisdom and love for his children. While there were flickers of Perryman’s talent in “Gin Game,” the production stumbled frequently as he and Johnson seemed to forget lines and struggle to keep the dialogue on pace. Johnson’s Fonsia was a shrewd woman who was believably unaware of or good at concealing this quality.

I hope the actors and director were able to overcome these flaws in subsequent performances. It would be a shame for such lapses to mar a play with so much depth and significance.

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