The Gin Game


County Seat Theater Company’s production of D.L. Coburn’s “The Gin Game” smacks us in the face. What begins as a comedy about two old people in a nursing home continues with a perhaps deserved declamation of nursing home life, then deepens into a hard look at the lives of our two principals.

Fonzia Dorcey, played by Mary Smith, and Weller Martin (Michael Rosen) have recently moved into a nursing home. Weller invites a lonely Mary to play gin rummy, but according to his rules. She joins the game, and begins to consistently win. Herein lies the rub.  

They commiserate with each other over the 10x10-ness of their rooms, having to part with most of their belongings, the poor quality of their food. Weller cannot get enthused about the entertainment they’re offered each afternoon, and advises Mary to see her own doctor, not one of the in-house “welfare quacks”.

Mary keeps on winning. The couple has a lot to talk about, including how their kids don’t come to visit them. But the conversation sinks when Weller shows off his temper after continually losing.

Mary’s now scared of her new friend, but he’s able to entice her to join the game again. Is it their common lot in this “storehouse for the intellectually and emotionally dead” that draws her back in, or is Weller’s abuse so familiar that she can’t help but choose it?

He describes the residents as “all lined up like rows of wrinkled pumpkinheads”. My dad used almost the same words upon first entering a nursing home. Funeral arrangements become “a hot topic”. We hear more and accurate descriptions of deathly nursing home life.

Our couple reveals long hidden things to each other, making them vulnerable. And sure as shootin’, shades of my own old mother, they use the new knowledge as weapons. Weller keeps on being angry and Mary joins him.

“The Gin Game” has great moments of both humor and pathos. It continually hits nails on heads and never stops surprising us. The acting is really good; Cheryl Kramer-Milder directs. This play was done onstage in the 70’s with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn; for TV last decade with Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke. Four letter word alert: Weller Martin is an irreverent man who does not watch his tongue. I love County Seat sets, this one included: the patio of an old nursing home.

The play runs this Thursday and Friday, June 14-15, 7:30 pm and Sunday, June 17, 2pm. Refreshments are served at intermission when you’ll also be able to join a cookie raffle to benefit County Seat Theater’s trip bringing “Wiley and the Hairy Man” to the World Festival of Children’s Performing Arts  in Japan. Other fundraisers toward the trip are 1) a wine tasting on Wednesday, June 27, 6pm at the Dry Dock, Midway Road; 2) performances of “Wiley”on June 29 and 30, both with a 6pm picnic,  playwright Jack Stokes attending; 3) a pancake breakfast at the Barnum Senior Center on Friday, July 6, 8:30am-10am; 4) a Hairy Man Rummage Sale on Saturday, June 16, 7am at the Barnum Community Center.

A Gin Game Card Deck with artwork by local artists featured on each card is also available for sale. Originals are on display in the Encore! Performing Arts Center and Gallery in Cloquet, the location for both “The Gin Game” and “Wiley”(2nd Cloquet exit going South on I-35 from Duluth).

The day and date for the final Three Bridges International Chamber Music Festival was listed erroneously in last week’s Reader. The correct day and date are Thursday, June 14, 7:30pm, with a concert talk at 6:30pm.
thursday and fri and sat, June 14 and 16, 7:30 pm and Sunday, June 16, 2pm.