Editor’s note: This article was first published in our Print Edition on Sept. 12, 2018.

      The Gin Game at Sierra Madre Playhouse (Photo - Gina Long).

      The Gin Game at Sierra Madre Playhouse (Photo – Gina Long).

      This play started out at a 99-seat Hollywood Theater in 1976. The playwright (D.L. Coburn) won a Pulitzer Prize for it in 1978, it went on to Broadway, was produced as a movie starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in 1981, and again in 2003 starring Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, and has been produced as a play many times over the years, but it had escaped my experience until now.

      By Carol Edger Germain

      What a pleasure to see it in the lovely, local Sierra Madre Playhouse with husband and wife Alan Blumenfeld and Katherine James in the starring roles of Weller and Fonsia! The only roles, actually, except for the janitor who briefly cleans up the “game room” between scenes. Alan Blumenfeld (who stars as Weller) has appeared in over 40 feature films and over 130 television episodes, familiar to fans of the TV series “Heroes” in his role as Maury Parkman. I also had the pleasure of seeing his outstanding performance in “The Chosen” recently at the Fountain Theatre. Katherine James (who co-stars as Fonsia) has appeared in productions at the Sierra Madre Playhouse and Theatricum Botanicum, has written numerous plays, and has directed at the Odyssey Theater. The play is directed by Christian Lebano,

      Weller and Fonsia meet at an “old folks home,” to which they have been relegated due to various unfortunate circumstances, both determined to maintain their dignity, lightly sugarcoat their family circumstances, and keep themselves somewhat distanced from the “others” who do nothing but wait for visitors and attend the repetitive activities at the home, such as the Monday dance class that Weller bashes as ridiculous because many of the people can’t even get out of their chairs. Weller teaches the somewhat reticent Fonsia to play gin and her quick acquisition of winning skills aggravate him daily because it is “his” game, he’s the master, and he can’t seem to win a game with her. Throughout their gin games, they discuss society, their families, medical conditions (he claims his only disease is “Old Age,” while she is dealing with diabetes). While they are not gushing details about their pre-home lives, as comments are made and gin is played, memories, fears, and frustration emerge and the emotional level of their interaction, both as to gin and life in general, escalates. Weller’s temper is barely in check for most of the play, and Blumenfeld is a master at reeling in and out, then finally casting it far and wide, frightening Fonsia and finally evoking a physical response from her. Funny moments allow the audience to relax a bit, but the emotions start simmering quickly, and in the final act, the damn breaks and we absorb the joy, love, and heartaches (mostly heartaches) that made up their lives. Their flaws become clear, they force some bitter truths from each other, and we see how in some ways their lives went wrong partially based on their failure to follow their own principles becomes obvious, but is there time, and will they see the value, in attempting to reconcile some of their family issues?

      Wonderful production, don’t miss it! And be sure to plan for dinner at one of the local restaurants. Always a pleasure to visit Sierra Madre, which magically retains it’s small town charm year after year – I hope Sierra Madre and its wonderful Playhouse never change, both are gems to be treasured.

      The Gin Game
      • Written by D.L. Coburn
      • Directed by Christian Lebano
      • Cast: Alan Blumenfeld and Katherine James
      Sierra Madre Playhouse
      87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, CA 91024

      • Fri., Sat., Sun. through October 6
      • $40, $20 (students with Valid ID). Tickets at Sierramadreplayhouse.org
      (Discount tickets also available @ goldstar.com)
      Purchase here.

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