Westside audiences are in for a treat. Last season’s acclaimed, Ovation-recommended production of The Gin Game, directed by Christian Lebano at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, will be re-staged outdoors at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, with real-life husband-and-wife team, Alan Blumenfeld and Katherine James reprising their roles. With Lebano again at the helm, performances of D. L. Coburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning two-hander will run August 17 through Sept. 29 in Theatricum’s intimate S. Mark Taper Pavilion.
Longtime Theatricum company members Blumenfeld and James star as a pair of elderly residents in a nursing home who strike up a stormy friendship while playing gin rummy. The irascible Weller Martin (Blumenfeld) struggles with “the incredible run of luck” enjoyed by self-righteous Fonsia Dorsey (James), who beats him consistently even though she’s just learned the game and he’s been playing for years. As they play, they reveal secrets that get used against each other, and the game becomes a metaphor for their lives.
“It deals with people who at a very late age confront many areas of their lives which have remained unexamined,” Coburn said in an interview with The New York Times. “This coming to a greater knowledge of self is a painful experience at any age but, when nearing the end of life, to have revelations about your entire life and all the choices you’ve made, that’s a cataclysmic experience. In the nursing home they repeat their life pattern. I guess the play says we can’t get too far away from ourselves.”
Partly inspired by his aunt’s experiences at a nursing home in Coburn’s home city of Baltimore, The Gin Game premiered at the 49-seat American Theater Arts in Hollywood in 1976. It opened on Broadway in October 1977, directed by Mike Nichols and starring another married couple: Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. The Gin Game was awarded the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and has since had productions in virtually every country of the western world, as well as heralded productions in Australia, Japan and China.
Broadway World senior editor Don Grigware called the Sierra Madre production “Brilliant… exceedingly funny [and] seriously disquieting.” Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle member Frances Baum Nicholson, writing for Southern California News Group (10 daily papers, including the L.A. Daily News and Pasadena Star-News) raved, “A winning hand…produced with great polish and passion…impressive.” In his “Top Ten” review for Los Angeles theater site, Stage Raw, theater critic Neal Weaver praised [Blumenfeld and James] for their “terrific performance…a married couple who work together as a splendid team.”
A company member for more than 30 years, Blumenfeld has graced the stage at Theatricum Botanicum dozens of times, including as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor (Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award), Gloucester in King Lear and Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet.
James has appeared at Theatricum in Heartbreak House, The Winter’s Tale and Lysistrata, among others.
The couple previously starred together in Theatricum productions of Tone Clusters by Joyce Carol Oates and Talley’s Folly by Lanford Wilson.
The Gin Game runs Aug. 17 through Sept. 29, with all performances starting at 1 p.m. on the following Saturdays and Sundays: Aug. 17, 24, 31; Sept. 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, 29. Tickets are $38.
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, midway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. The S. Mark Taper Pavilion is terraced into the hillside; audience members are advised to dress casually and to bring sunscreen, water, a hat, and cushions for bench seating. Patrons are welcome to picnic before or after the performance.