Review: The Gin Game (Drury Lane Theatre)

| July 4, 2017

John Reeger and Paula Scrofano star as Weller Marting and Fonsia Dorsey in The Gin Game, Drury Lane Theatre           


The Gin Game

Written by D. L. Coburn
Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook Terrace (map)
thru Aug 13  |  tix: $42-$57  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Dramatic ‘Game’ delivers profound commentary on value of forgiveness


John Reeger and Paula Scrofano star as Weller Marting and Fonsia Dorsey in The Gin Game at Drury Lane

Drury Lane Theatre presents
The Gin Game

Review by Catey Sullivan

The plot of D. L. Coburn’s 100-minute, two-person drama sounds so simple you wonder how it could possibly be a compelling drama: Two people play half a dozen hands of gin. One person wins every game. That’s it. Set on the shabby back patio of a down-market nursing home, 70something Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey talk and play cards, occasionally interrupted by the pathetic sing-alongs and feeble magic shows playing to the ailing elders behind a set of grimy sliding glass doors.

Paula Scrofano and John Reeger star as and Fonsia Dorsey and Weller Marting in The Gin Game at Drury LaneYet within this small, sad world, Coburn has created a place of eviscerating drama while also delivering a profound, disturbing commentary on the issues that we’ll all face sooner or later. Directed by Ross Lehman, Drury Lane Theatre’s The Gin Game packs an emotional wallop you won’t soon recover from. Abetted by the performances by Paula Scrofano (Fonsia) and John Reeger (Weller), The Gin Game is a gut-punch of a show defined by tension that is almost unbearable.

The Gin Game will make you think about the value of a life – of your life – and calculates the final price that comes due to all who harbor bitterness, regret and grudges. Whether you’re closer to 70 or closer to 20, you’ll be thinking about your future as The Gin Game unfolds.

Through Fonsia and Weller, Coburn shows that only compassion and forgiveness have the power to protect you from “golden years” spent isolated, lonely and yearning for a second chance.

While Coburn’s dialogue is inarguably powerful, it’s boosted immensely by the decades-long relationship among Lehman, Scrofano and Reeger. Scrofano and Reeger have been married for more than 45 years. Lehman directed the couple in a show some 30 years ago. Their work on stage is steeped in the relationships they’ve fostered and nurtured for generations. There’s no substitute for that kind of collaborative history, and there’s an ineffable sense of it on stage: Fonsia and Weller are strangers to each other at the beginning of The Gin Game, but as their relationship develops, you can practically see the emotional cords linking the two.

John Reeger and Paula Scrofano star as Weller Marting and Fonsia Dorsey in The Gin Game, Drury Lane

Their connection is fractious and knotty. They’re far more Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf than On Golden Pond. But as their difficult, explosive – and sometimes downright hateful – relationship develops over the course of gin games, there is never a doubt as to the strength of the ties that bind them together.

Each hand plays out with the suspense of a fuse burning toward detonation. There may be elevator music coming from inside the nursing home, but between Fonsia and Weller, there is nothing but fire – scorching, scarring and intense. Lehman draws their stories out with expert pacing, gradually revealing the choices that have led to twilight years spent without family, love or joy.

Scrofano and Reeger are both powerhouses. I’ve been following their careers for 25+ years, and The Gin Game is some of the best work they’ve ever done. In Scrofano’s performance, Fonsia’s character unpeels down to a raw core that leaves her vulnerable and in pain. Fonsia isn’t the sweet old grandmotherly type she appears to be on the surface. She’s both a tragic figure and a woman who has caused her share of tragedies. The cliché tells us that you hurt the ones you love the most – In Fonsia’s case, that’s all too true.

Reeger gradually reveals what’s beneath Weller’s sarcastic bluster and iron-tough exterior. When Weller explodes, his loss of control is terrifying. And while Weller is tough as nails, Reeger makes it clear that those nails are pointed inward. Weller’s rage and self-inflicted damage is potentially lethal. He carries within him the destructive force of a hurricane. As he lashes out against his physical surroundings, it’s clear that he’s really destroying himself.

Paula Scrofano and John Reeger star as and Fonsia Dorsey and Weller Marting in The Gin Game

Katherine Ross’ set design lets you know at first glance that Weller’s description of the nursing home as "a warehouse for the intellectually and emotionally dead” is spot-on. Everything on the patio is broken, colorless or dead. A busted plastic Santa statue is forgotten among scatters of dead leaves and rusting landscape tools. You can practically smell the musty neglect of the place.

The denial that we’ll ever get truly old is as much a part of the human condition as breathing. Talk to someone in their 20s or 30s or 40s and they’ll tell you the notion of being 70something is absolutely inconceivable. Talk to someone older, and they’ll tell you they don’t see anything resembling a senior citizen when they look in the mirror.

The Gin Game serves as both an exceedingly compelling drama and a warning. Age happens. When you’re picking your fights en route to old age, choose wisely.

Rating: ★★★★

The Gin Game continues through August 13th at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace (map), with performances Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Thursdays 1:30pm & 8pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 5pm & 8:30pm, Sundays 2pm & 6pm.  Tickets are $42-$57 (seniors: $40), and are available by phone (630-745-3000) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 1 hour 55 minutes, includes 15-minute intermission)

John Reeger and Paula Scrofano star as Weller Marting and Fonsia Dorsey in The Gin Game

Photos by Brett Beiner 




Paula Scrofano (Fonsia Dorsey), John Reeger (Weller Martin), Jill Shellabarger, Jim McCance (understudies)

behind the scenes

Ross Lehman (director), Katherine Ross (scenic design), Mathieu H. Ray (costume design), Lindsey Lyddan (lighting design), Ray Nardelli (sound design), Mike Tutaj (projection design), Cassy Schillo (props design), Claire Moores (wig and hair design), Lucia Lombardi (stage manager), HMS Media (video production), Brett Beiner (photos)


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Catey Sullivan, Drama, Drury Lane Oakbrook, Video, YouTube

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