Kansas City Actors Theatre serves up an impeccably performed production of D.L. Coburn’s “The Gin Game,” a two-person character study about residents of a nursing home whose “golden years” are anything but idyllic.
Under Dennis Hennessy’s expert direction, Victor Raider-Wexler and Marilyn Lynch hold viewers in rapt attention as they deliver remarkable precise performances shaded with nuance and peppered with subtle details. Billed as a tragicomedy, Coburn’s play is filled with rich humor in the early going; after intermission, the piece segues into brutal revelations and comes to a sobering conclusion: that ultimately each of us is alone in the most profound sense.
Coburn’s 1978 Pulitizer Prize notwithstanding, his balance of the comedic and dramatic aspects of this piece is less than sure-handed at times. It is up to the actors, therefore, to negotiate the awkward transitions, which Raider-Wexler and Lynch do almost perfectly.
Weller Martin (Raider-Wexler) and Fonsia Dorsey (Lynch) are lonely residents at a home for senior citizens. Weller has been there a few months, Fonsia only a few weeks. Weller offers to teach Fonsia how to play gin and initially the game seems to be a bonding experience for them. But Fonsia picks up the game with breathtaking quickness and begins repeatedly winning, much to Weller’s annoyance.
Weller’s frustration becomes so intense that it offers Fonsia a disturbing glimpse of his deep reservoir of molten anger. He fears that his outbursts may get the attention of the nursing home management and land him in a mental hospital. Fonsia, meanwhile, hasn’t been forthcoming about her own life, which the perceptive Weller figures out.
Ultimately the play becomes a contest of wills, so much so that a lasting friendship between Weller and Fonsia isn’t possible. There are times when Coburn is clearly manipulating the audience, but the actors in this production are so good that you may not care.
The physical production at the City Stage at Union Station is first-rate, from Jim Misenheimer’s detailed depiction of a somewhat ramshackle front porch to Shane Rowse’s subtle lighting and Sarah M. Oliver’s thoughtful costume designs.
If you want to see two veteran actors at the top of their game, this is a show for you.
To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The Gin Game” runs through Aug. 30 at City Stage at Union Station. Call 816-235-6222 or go to www.kcactors.org.