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The Gin Game at Apple Hill

It’s an enduring gem

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The more one sees The Gin Game — i.e., the older one gets — the more relevant are its twangs of loneliness and other aches and pains of senior citizenry. Donald L. Coburn’s one-set, two-character drama from 1976 offers solid meat to community theaters with older actors, and the Apple Hill Playhouse carves up a treat.

(May I boast that I saw the Broadway production of the 1978 Pulitzer Prize-winner starring the legendary Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn? Miss Tandy won her second Tony for Gin in 1977; her first was as the original Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire 30 years earlier. No, I’m not old enough to have seen them both.)

The story seems easy enough: Man meets woman, man and woman play cards, kvetch and establish a relationship far from love, but a mix of competitiveness, curiosity, bloodlust and even a kind of admiration. The game is a metaphor for life. Gin is meant to be timeless, in a “present day” nursing home, but there are occasional wisps of an earlier 20th century in the characters’ past. And while the tone is serious, there are plenty of laughs to lighten the evening.

Director Wayne Brinda keeps the pace brisk. His Fonsia (Shirley Ratner) and Weller (Dennis “Chip” Kerr) might be elderly, but there’s nothing feeble about them, especially their wits. Lithe and sharp-tongued, Ratner embodies the avian nature of her character, from vulnerable to vicious. Kerr appropriately lumbers as Weller, a man long wounded by life. His visual dominance belies the sexual dynamic actually in play.

As usual, the tech/design staff does an excellent job in creating the set, a nicely cluttered porch with voices, music and lights drifting in from the nursing home “interior” behind the stage.

An enduring gem, The Gin Game gingerly and tenderly demonstrates that old age leads neither to maturity nor wisdom, but sometimes to unnamable terrors and inner demons. Enjoy it at Apple Hill.

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