Like Visiting Old Friends As STLAS Brings Back “The Gin Game”

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Weller and Fonsia begin their unexpected journey into the game of gin in the St. Louis Actors’ Studio production of “The Gin Game.” Photo: John Lamb

I first met Fonsia and Weller on a PBS special featuring the two actors who originated “The Gin Game,” Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. Since then, I’ve visited them often on local stages and in other towns. Now St. Louis Actors’ Studio brings them back with great success in the forms of Linda Kennedy and Peter Mayer- two premiere actors in St. Louis- and the results are beyond expectations.

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A rare quiet, tender moment in “The Gin Game” with Peter Mayer and Linda Kennedy at St. Louis Actor’s Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Through love, bickering and consternation, these two form a bond that doesn’t always happen on stage. Linda Kennedy simply shines as Fonsia. Her delight at having company at this decrepit home for seniors becomes apparent once Weller introduces himself and they start playing his favorite card game- gin. As so often happens, the woman smashes the ego of her male counterpoint by declaring “gin” after three or four moves- every time. The range of emotions Kennedy shows is nothing short of fabulous. Her apologies turn to anger as the game goes on and Weller gets more and more agitated and then her emotional breakdown turns to grief by play’s end. What a delightfully rich performance.

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Weller’s anger continues to build as Fonsia bests him once again in the STLAS production of “The Gin Game.” Photo: John Lamb

Peter Mayer also goes all out with his portrayal of Weller. He can’t suppress his anger over losing time and time again and clearly escalates this simple card game into a life or death scenario. His continual apologies soon fall on deaf ears until the final moments when he may have carried things too far. One thing is clear, Mr. Mayer and Ms. Kennedy click from their first meeting until that unexpected ending when both actors leave the audience on the verge of tears.

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Peter Mayer as Weller sympathizes with Linda Kennedy as Fonsia as she begins to pour her heart out to him in “The Gin Game” at STLAS. Photo: John Lamb

To get those performances, excellent direction is necessary and who better than John Contini to bring out the full measure of each actors’ talents? His interpretation of the play and the relationship is right on the mark. Christie Johnston has transformed the small STLAS stage into a dilapidated work of art and Dalton Robison’s lights add to the effect. Carla Landis Evans cements the perfect touch with her costume design.

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Game after game is played on the old back porch as Fonsia and Weller form an unusual bond in the STLAS production of “The Gin Game.” Photo: John Lamb

You won’t find better acting and you won’t find a more poignant story than Donald Coburn’s “The Gin Game.” The play and the company along with the two wondrous actors are a match made in heaven. Catch “The Gin Game” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio through December 20th at the Gaslight Theatre. Contact them at http://www.stlas.org for tickets or more information.

 

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