Review: Perennial Favorite 'The Gin Game' Gets Strong Outing in Special Performance

by Joe Siegel

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday November 16, 2022

Maureen Noel and Steven Taschereau in "The Gin Game"
Maureen Noel and Steven Taschereau in "The Gin Game"  

D. L. Coburn's "The Gin Game," which premiered in 1976 and won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, was performed for a special limited run at RISE this past weekend.

The action takes place at a nursing home and features just two characters: The cantankerous Weller, played here by Steven Taschereau, and the gentle Fonsia (Maureen Noel), who has been holding back years of pain.

Weller once operated a successful business. His once-youthful optimism has transformed into a resentful cynicism. He has nothing but contempt for the other inhabitants of their home, as well as the staff.

"If you live long enough, sooner or later you end up in one of these places," says Weller.

Weller teaches Fonsia how to play gin rummy. Fonsia stuns him by winning every game. As the two senior citizens get to know each other better, secrets are revealed. Fonsia, who is diabetic, has a grown son who never comes to visit her. She tells Weller about her failed marriage.

Weller and Fonsia's interactions become increasingly fraught with tension, which leads to open warfare.

You won't walk out of "The Gin Game" with a more rosy view of human nature. There is a lot of negativity being exhibited on the stage, and the effects are shattering.

Noel, who recently appeared as the daffy old mother in "Social Security," is outstanding in this role. Fonsia never gloats over her victories, but neither does she make an effort to conceal her glee. Noel brings charm and vulnerability to this woman.

Taschereau is effective at gradually exposing Weller's deep-seated hostility, drawing on years of unresolved anger. When Weller loses his first few games, he earns laughs by cursing and throwing his cards down in frustration. It's only when Fonsia rubs some metaphorical salt in his wounds that he turns abusive.

What's notable about this production is the absence of a director at the helm. Noel and Taschereau basically directed themselves, which has worked out remarkably well, considering how much chemistry the actors have.

So what lessons are we to take away from this show? For one, there are no easy resolutions. Lots of things are not wrapped all nice and neat with a bow on top. Relationships become fractured and aren't easy to repair.

Getting older can be tough, as we reflect back on what we could have done differently in our lives.

"The Gin Game" has been a staple of community theater for nearly 50 years. It's a terrific showcase for actors. For now, Noel and Taschereau have set a pretty high bar for compelling performances.

"The Gin Game" was performed November 12-13 at RISE. 142 Clinton St., Woonsocket, RI. For more information, visit www.ristage.org.

Joe Siegel has written for a number of other GLBT publications, including In newsweekly and Options.