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The Gin Game

Joy Scime and Mark Donahue in "The Gin Game"

When The Gin Game opened on Broadway in the 1977 in a production starring legendary acting duo Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, under the direction of Mike Nichols, it was a sensation. Like the Lunts before them, Tandy and Cronyn were husband and wife who preferred to work together and had perfected a style of acting in which one would begin the next line just as the other was finishing the line previous. Audiences were greedy to see them towards the end of their careers at the top of their form in an engaging play about two residents of a nursing home who strike up an acquaintance based on a mutual enthusiasm for playing cards.

Complications begin when the woman wins every hand. Soon the competition at the card table becomes personal and the pair use details of each other’s lives to score hurtful jabs at each other. The game of cards becomes a metaphor for human interdependence and our simultaneous inability to get along.

While the play would win the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1978, and enjoy a television version with Tandy and Cronyn, as well as a version with Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore and a revival with Julie Harris and Charles Durning, first-time playwright D. L. Colburn would never duplicate that early success.

American Repertory Theater of WNY has decided to revisit this play from more than 30 years ago with Joy Scime and Mark Donahue as the contentious card-playing friends, under the direction of Michael Lodick.

While the sense of occasion that the original Broadway production inspired cannot be duplicated, the play does maintain its vigor and its insight, and provides a marvelous opportunity to watch two fine actors going at it. Actors Scime and Donahue are assuredly learning a new respect for the artistry of the Cronyns as they navigate card game after card game.

“It is difficult to keep track of which game you’re in!” exclaimed Scime after a recent performance. While the dialogue shifts and the tension mounts, the card games repeat and repeat. Added to the acting challenge is the fact that the deck of cards is shuffled and Scime and Donahue are called upon to act as if they are playing cards that, in reality, are not the cards they actually see. The pair assay this delightful task admirably.

The Gin Game continues through February 11, Thu-Sat at 7:30, Sun at 2 at Buffalo East, 1410 Main Street. Call 634-1102 for reservations.