Theater Spotlight: The Gin Game

Wendy Lehr and Bain Boehlke in The Gin Game
Michal Daniel
Wendy Lehr and Bain Boehlke in The Gin Game

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THE GIN GAME
at the Jungle Theater through June 29
612.822.7063

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Proving that satisfying drama can emerge from unlikely settings, D.L. Coburn's The Gin Game takes place entirely on a sun porch attached to a dead-end home for the elderly. There, the (at first) chuckling and affable Weller (Bain Boehlke, who also directs and designs the meticulously ramshackle set) meets newcomer Fonsia (Wendy Lehr) and offers to while away the time with her over some gin (the card game, not the booze). Over the course of a few hands, all of which Fonsia wins, we learn that it's visitors' day, and neither of this aged pair has anyone willing to come see them. In the second scene, it seems romance might be afoot, since it's a week later (still no visitors) and our pair each arrive dressed up for the occasion. This is to be no winter romance story, though: Fonsia turns increasingly hard-eyed as she continues to win hand after hand, and Weller's earlier easygoing charm turns increasingly to exasperation until, just before the intermission, he explodes. Boehlke and Lehr have logged piles of work together over the past four decades or so, and it shows: They tease out the ugly realities of their characters slowly and gradually, working easily and cooperatively even as the chemistry between Weller and Fonsia turns inversely toxic. While Weller had been cooing and purring in the first act, midway through the second he's mocking and caustic, and in the final scene he delivers his nasty insults with jarring force. Fonsia turns brittle, with hostility and judgmental animosity beginning to leak out the corners of her demure facade. The nastiness becomes so thick in the final half-hour that there's a palpable sense that someone is going to lose this epic battle in a bad way, which is precisely what happens. There's never a sense here that anything terribly important is at stake, but Coburn's dark, claustrophobic little comedic drama delves deep into the unpleasant truths that can ruin lives. Boehlke and Lehr, for their part, are at no point less than fascinating. When the time comes and your kids pack you off to the home, best leave the deck of cards behind.

 
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