THE GIN GAME
The Gin Game is a two-character play that I’ve heard of almost my whole life, but have never had a chance to see. And, to be perfectly honest, an entire evening of two senior citizens playing cards just did not appeal to me, so I was in no rush. I was curious, because it’s such a classic by now, but still…
So I was happy to discover last weekend at Sierra Madre Playhouse that it’s much more humorous and entertaining than I would have ever imagined. It’s definitely a fun journey, but sadly, with a very unsatisfying ending, which is not at all the fault of this production. In researching the play later that night, I found-out that the author said the comedy showed-up “unintentionally,” and that he wrote it as a tragedy.
The Gin Game features a very charming and funny first half. Until right before the intermission curtain, that is, when the drama kicked-in. The play was written in 1976, when verbal abuse wasn’t considered as scary as it is finally acknowledged to be. It might be a very different story if penned today.
The scenario is a man and woman meeting in an old age home, and getting to know each other over multiple games of gin rummy. Comfortble enough, right? But the second half devolves into so much verbal abuse, and a bit of physical terror, as well, that it was hard for me to take. It’s like a story on The Jerry Springer Show where a girl is dating a cute nice guy, but then he turns into a lunatic. Only with old people. It’s disturbing to witness behavior like that up-close. But again, not the fault of the Sierra Madre Playhouse; they produced it as written.
My friend and I didn’t understand the ending at all, and neither did the few other guests we queried about it at the opening night reception. It all probably has some higher meaning, but it eludes me, (and all of the people I’ve talked to about it, as well.) I couldn’t even find any theories on the topic on-line! (They must be there, but I stopped after two hours of looking.)
I still recommend this production for several reasons: 1) Any visit to the adorable Sierra Madre Playhouse is a worthwhile one. 2) The set by Tesshi Nakagawa (whom I had met at an after-party for an East West Players show for which he had also designed the set,) is another perfect one! 3) The acting, by husband-wife team of Alan Blumenfeld (whose voice I love) and Katherine James, is excellent. And 4) Despite the tension, it’s a good show! The whole presentation flies by until those last few minutes.
There is one very clever bit of staging that I have a feeling is unique to this theatre. At intermission, and in-between scenes, (to give the actors time to change their wardrobe,) Assistant Stage Manager Matthew Raymond comes out, dressed as an orderly, and re-works the props. He even just stands there eating what looked to be a candy bar at one point. Very nursing home aide-esque. And adorbs.
One thing that upset me almost as much as the abuse is that the woman is only seventy-one. And healthy! What healthy people of that age are in retirement homes??? I know much older folks than that who are still active and living in their own homes. But again, I believe aging was different back in the day. I watch a lot of old movies, and in the black-and-white ones, the stories make it like people’s lives are over as they approach forty! So who knows. (And how lucky are we all to be alive in this day and age?!)
As always with SMP, their lobby display, which is curated by Diane Siegel, is a winner, and not to be missed. This one is very educational in addition to being attractive. There are informative areas, such as one explaining elder care options, then and now, along with a bit of visual mirth in the form of giant playing cards adorning the walls, including the doors to the restrooms! (Queens for the ladies, of course, and kings for the gents. So clever.)
So try to not miss this last offering of theirs before the holiday season, when we’ll all get a second chance to see their delightful production of A Christmas Story. No pain involved with that tale, (unless, like me, you don’t like to see a perfectly-cooked turkey wind-up on the floor!)
The Gin Game running through October 6, 2018
Sierra Madre Playhouse 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd. Sierra Madre 626-355-4318 www.sierramadreplayhouse.org