Two legendary actors, James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson, delivered a powerful performance in the dark, two character drama, The Gin Game, on November 29, 2015 at the John Golden Theatre in New York City. The Tony Award winning performers were reuniting on stage 49 years after they worked together on Broadway in A Hand Is on the Gate in 1966. Fittingly, they were in the same theatre where the Pulitzer prize winning play debuted in 1977 starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.
Jones and Tyson portray Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey, residents at a nursing home for senior citizens. The entire play takes place on a junk-cluttered back porch. He is an irascible, foul-mouthed, verbally abusive man whose only escape from his misery is playing gin rummy. When she wanders into the home, he invites her to play. Dorsey claims to be a novice and needs coaching, however she cleverly deceives Martin, and his anger is fueled as she constantly defeats him. Her wild mannered persona eventually becomes ruffled by his mounting anger. Martin hates seemingly everything, especially what Dorsey loves; the music playing in the home, and the dance classes she’s eager to join. Yet as two solitary people, they are drawn together in a desperate need for companionship.
His frustration with losing grows, and their conversations become more combative. They discuss their lives, their children, their divorces, and his once promising career as a business consultant. Martin constantly pries into Dorsey’s past in an attempt to expose a flaw and soothe his bruised male ego. When he realizes that her son never visits her, his instincts accurately tell him it is because he hates her. In this battle of the sexes, Martin has accomplished his goal, striking down her confidence, bringing her to tears. Her sadness briefly brings about compassion as he comforts her, but only momentarily. His tunnel vision sees a chance to redeem himself on the card table, yet when he finally wins, he is not content, blaming Dorsey for allowing his victory. Martin’s cursing rage becomes more volatile, yet in her subtle way, she is a formidable adversary. Dorsey has a retort for his every advance in this verbal fencing match. In the end, she has only one recourse, to beat him again, and throw him into utter agony.
The Gin Game is a simple, gritty portrait of loneliness at the end of life, peppered with comic overtones that prevent the production from becoming overly mundane. Jones and Tyson are masterful; two perfectly matched sparring partners whose brilliance illuminates a classic tale of the old and abandoned.