The Gin Game
A very big play for a cast of two, here presented without an intermission. It’s a battle of the sexes between a closed-up housewife and a failed businessman, whose personalities are revealed while playing gin together in the run-down retirement home they live in.
The simple but everpresent construction has them divorcees in a dump against the financial exorbitance of Presbyterian Home (the high-price spread).
Dick Van Dyke does a new refinement of Mr. Dawes, Sr. in Mary Poppins. Mary Tyler Moore might be in a dream sequence from her series at an advanced age (powdered hair, wan makeup).
The conclusion is surprisingly pure, expressed by Van Dyke’s injured walk away down the corridor, and Moore’s exclamation of concern. The dialogue and action are very close at times to what you find in Frederick Wiseman’s documentary, Domestic Violence, and all of it is stated in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, “Opie’s Girlfriend”.
There is an opening sweep in which the actors enjoy dwelling somehow in the characters of Rob and Laura Petrie, without the inconvenience of a “Return” show, before they come to grips with the business in hand (this is a fine variation for two great performers).
Arvin Brown was the Artistic Director of Long Wharf Theatre when Mike Nichols breezed through with the out-of-town tryouts for the first Broadway production (with Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy). He’s done a lot of television since, and doesn’t waste any time. He directs for and with the camera, allowing the laughs to bubble and froth without disturbing the brew.
This is everything you could ask for in a production of The Gin Game, as well as from a reunion of The Dick Van Dyke Show, or so it seems to this fan.