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Volume XVII, Issue 10 - March 5 - March 11, 2009
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The Gin Game at Bay Theatre Company

See it and you’ll be one of the lucky one

reviewed by Jane Elkin

Some people are just lucky.

Just ask any failure.

Or Ask Weller Martin, the grouchier half of D.L. Coburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning tragicomedy, The Gin Game.

photo courtesy of Bay Theatre Company

Fonsia Dorsey (Rena Cherry Brown, right) knows a thing or two about bad luck. When she joins Weller Martin (Paul Danaceau) in a game of gin rummy, they become codependents in a dysfunctional dance of mental abuse.

Weller (Paul Danaceau) is a bit of a loner in the ramshackle retirement home where he lands after a string of bad luck. He calls the place “a warehouse for the intellectually and emotionally dead.” He can be charming and funny that way, when he’s not playing solitaire to escape his solitude. He prefers gin rummy, but you can’t play that alone, so he’s thrilled when Fonsia comes along.

Fonsia Dorsey (Rena Cherry Brown) knows a thing or two about bad luck, herself, but not so as she’d talk about it. The timid shell of a woman brightens considerably when Weller invites her to play. He delights in his fresh patsy, until he discovers she’s a natural. Then his darker side emerges. At first it’s just ominous rumbling; eventually, the storm’s full fury descends on her. For he can’t stand to lose, and she can’t resist his overtures for “just one more game.”

They become codependents in a dysfunctional dance where Weller, like all abusers, repeatedly pushes his victim to her limits, then apologizes, thus breaking down her notions of normalcy and decorum. Despite Fonsia’s mounting discomfort, she keeps coming back for more because it beats the alternative, which is loneliness. The promise of romance escalates to mutual misery as they alienate each other with vindictive goading.

Set designer Ken Sheets has done a masterful job recreating the crumbling porch where they square off day after day. Complete with a neglected garden and leaky roof, it’s missing only live crickets. Likewise, director Lucinda Merry-Browne’s staging emphasizes the interface between characters as they swing between extremes of temperament.

But in a play where range is key to blurring the lines between quirkiness and insanity, outrage and aggression, Danaceau’s tantrums lack the raw anger to be convincing. Underneath all the hysterics and invectives, I still suspect he’s a really nice person. Brown’s performance, on the other hand, is seamless as she transitions from girlish frail to harpy.

In fairness, the theater experience was interrupted midway through the first act, when a playgoer became violently ill and had to exit in an aromatic cloud. That misfortune threw off everyone’s rhythm — which just highlights Bay Theatre’s need for a larger space. The play still held me in its grip and in my seat.

Playing thru March 28 at 8pm FSa; 3pm Su; 3pm & 8pm March 28. @ Bay Theatre Company, Annapolis. $30 w/discounts:


© COPYRIGHT 2009 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.