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By Thomas J. Sullivan–
It’s time to cut the cards in a cut-throat game of gin rummy where anything can happen at the Bentley Home for the Aged.
The curtain rises on the patio of the Bentley Nursing Home, a low-end facility where staff is condescending to patients and often steals from them too.
We’re about to take a seat at “The Gin Game,” a heartfelt tragic-comedy, the fourth play of Theatre in the Heights 2019 season. The small theater opened in 2017 at 8215 Auburn Blvd., in Citrus Heights.
Stephen Kauffman (Weller Martin) and Janet Bailey Kiddie (Fonsia Dorsey) are a delight to watch in performances that mix playful flirtation with flaring tempers and attempts at peace-making with non-stop button pushing.
Weller Martin is playing solitare on the porch of the Bentley Home for the Aged when Fonsia Dorsey, a prim, self-righteous lady enters. Fonsia suffers from chronic diabetes, Weller from “one of the most advanced cases of old age in the history of medical science”.
They discover they both dislike the home and enjoy gin rummy, so they begin to play and to reveal intimate details of their lives. As the games continue the facts of their lives are stripped bare and their true identities are revealed.
Weller divorced years ago and his wife remarried; hence he rarely saw his kids. And then he had the misfortune of losing his business to his no-good partners. Fonsia’s married-with-children son has moved too far away for a casual visit.
Fonsia may claim not to have played “gin rummy” in years, but quickly demonstrates either tremendous skill or tremendous luck, winning hand after hand to Weller’s increasing dismay.
As Fonsia shows a dazzling streak of beginner’s luck, the pleasantries subside. Weller cannot bear her winning, and, on Fonsia’s part, she finds Weller’s habit of cursing irritating and his temper frightening.
The “Gin Game,” written by playwright D.L. Coburn, won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and originally starred Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. Coburn’s script is still as edgy and fascinatingly minimalistic as it ever was. The continuous games between the two characters are basically all the action we get, and it becomes mesmerizing to watch.
Kauffman simmers as a hard-edged man who seems to be losing touch with himself. When his face becomes flushed, we genuinely feel his inner raw emotion.
Kidde is masterful and never betrays her plucky Methodist decorum of the lucky amateur who makes each triumphant declaration of “gin” a triumph of buoying the audience’s spirit along with her own.
It’s the second time on stage at Theatre in the Heights for Janet Bailey Kiddie as Fonsia Dorsey. She began acting when living on the Mendocino Coast from 1974 to 1984 where she had roles in “Beggar’s Opera,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and “The Mad Woman of Chaillot.”
Since moving to the Sacramento area, Kidde has performed at the Crocker Museum for the Performing Arts in “The Flood, and one of the monologues in “The Vagina Monologues.”
The Gin Game resounds with witty humor with adult language, by poking fun at the matters of aging. It then cleverly challenges our comfort zone with deep drama, scolding us for making light of such a serious subject. The play is directed by Stephen Kauffman, with Gary Kiddie serving as stage manager.
A special treat for season ticket holders of Theatre in the Heights and the public is a performance of London’s longest-running comedy, “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, abridged and revised by Adam Long, Daniel Singer & Jess Winfield” opening Friday June 21 through Sunday, July 7.
“If you don’t like or know Shakespeare, you’ll like this irreverent, fast-paced send-up. Imagine, all 37 plays in 97 minutes,” the theatre’s co-founder Blake Flores says. “Three madcap men in tights, Cary Babka, Tyler Anderson and myself, will weave our wicked way through all of Shakespeare’s comedies, histories, and tragedies in one wild romp.”
The Bard will be back at the Theatre in the Heights for Shakespeare’s “All’s Well That Ends Well,” which opens on Friday, July 19, and concludes with a showing on Sunday, August 11.
Theatre in the Heights is located at 8215 Auburn Blvd., Suite G, in Citrus Heights. All seats are $15 and can be purchased online or by phone at (916) 509-3445.
The theatre is also currently looking for actors and volunteers. Those interested are invited to sign up in the lobby or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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