Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Theater review: The Gin Game at DeSoto Corner Theatre
The choice to interpret the material as a straight drama is a daring one.
Recently I attended the Lone Star Film Festival and caught a screening of a local documentary entitled The Mayor. The film was about the dating life of senior citizens in an assisted living community. In one fell swoop a scene suggested that the lead subject was lying about his life for the sake of the cameras, and with that fatal scene the documentary lost all credibility. Funny how we often rely on fiction to uncover deeper truths on the vicarious life observed.
CrossOver Theater Company's production of The Gin Game (playing at the Corner Theatre in DeSoto through December 4), written by D.L. Coburn, is a welcome selection of truth telling. This tragicomedy (as billed by Coburn) and winner of the Pulitzer Prize is simple in design. Fonsia Dorsey, played by Lisa Fairchild, is a new resident at a nursing home where she is befriended by another resident, Weller Martin, played by Dennis Raveneau. Weller is a card demon, primarily of Gin Rummy, Hollywood style, and charms Fonsia into playing a round with him. Ever the novice, Fonsia wins the first round by a stroke of luckily dealt cards, and then wins another round and yet another. All the while, the two slowly get to know one another, teasing and joking, and eventually prodding, instigating, and manipulating each other as the stakes of the game continue to rise.
The classically regarded script, written in 1977, feels a bit dated, as the age and condition of the characters as interpreted in 2011 requires much suspension of disbelief. The casual viewer has to wait until midway into the second act to understand why Fonsia and Weller are in their current predicaments.
That being said, the actors are fully committed to their roles and captivated my attention throughout. Lisa Fairchild as Fonsia is believable in her sincerity of not wanting to upset Weller with her new good fortune at card playing. The final scene requires a fierce intensity, and she is every bit up to the task. Ms. Fairchild makes it easy to sympathize with her as it often seems she is being forced to play the game against her will.
Dennis Raveneau as Weller has an engaging and commanding presence. His intense focus on the game is realistic as he is always able to bring focus back to the card table. These transitions never feel routine or forced and feel authentic in Raveneau's hands. I particularly like the manic energy he displays when dealing out cards.
The play, under the direction of William Earl Ray, has a smooth and deliberate pace about it. One is never in doubt where Mr. Ray takes his audience, but often times it leads us to a darker place much sooner than one might expect. Earlier in this review I mentioned that the play is billed as a tragicomedy. If I had not read numerous references of the play's intended genre, I never would have considered this play as eliciting much laughter from the audience. It is clear that a conscious choice is made not to play up any of the scenes for laughs. This is not an incorrect choice by any means but I believe the hope is that the laughs will happen organically. Unfortunately, the characters' outcomes feel so preordained that the audience members don't feel permission to laugh.
Mr. Raveneau and Ms. Fairchild play excellent adversaries to each other but I never have a sense that their characters ever really like each other. Instead, I feel horror for the Fonsia character every time Weller convinces her to play Gin. There is one scene that shows off what this relationship can truly be as they share a waltz together. It is a tender moment that is almost dampened by the playwright's insistence that the waltz must be Leonard Cohen's "Take This Waltz." A beautiful song in its own right but the choice is perhaps too moody and twisted when it needed something a bit more sweet.
The lighting design by Mark Pearson is basic, but perfectly covers all the playing spaces; however, when Act II opens up to reveal Fonsia on the apron, all by her lonesome, the full lighting onstage confuses the audience members on where the focus should be. Craig Willis' sound design needs more attention to the sound levels as there are times the music is too blaring. I appreciate set designer Kathi Baker's thoughtfulness in her detail to the residents' abandoned recreation room. The room is full of unwanted board games, crutches that have never been used and an out of tune piano. The set design does a great job of conveying that this particular nursing home was not Fonsia or Weller's first choice. Ms. Baker also designs the costumes; her choice to clothe the characters in their pajamas for the first meeting is appropriate, setting the tone that the characters will be sleep walking for the remainder of their lives.
Director Mr. Ray tells this story with a clear vision, and the choice to interpret the material as a straight drama is a daring one. Although I disagree with this interpretation, Mr. Ray stuck to his vision and the confidence of it was present in every scene. That is the mark of a true artist. The Gin Game is the second production by CrossOver Theater Company and I am anxious to know what their next production will be.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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