In Donald L. Coburn’s two-person, two-act play “The Gin Game,” Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey, two elderly residents at a nursing home for senior citizens, strike up an acquaintance.
After Weller teaches Fonsia how to play gin rummy, they play a series of games together while engaging in lengthy conversations about their families and lives outside the nursing home. A relationship that starts as friendly and congenial escalates into conflict.
The New Mexico Actors Lab presents “The Gin Game,” starring Suzanne Lederer and Jonathan Richards and directed by Robert Benedetti, at the Teatro Paraguas theater from May 10 through 27. Although Benedetti has directed both Lederer, who appeared in the television series Remington Steele and Hunter, and Richards, who had guest roles in the television series Manhattan and Breaking Bad, in multiple productions during the past five years, he’s never worked with them in the same play.
“For a while, in the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to find a play for the two of them,” says Benedetti, an award-winning director, producer and screenwriter who founded the New Mexico Actors Lab in 2012. “They’re both very personal actors who do well in an intimate theater like Teatro Paraguas.”
“The Gin Game,” which won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, has been performed by a number of well-known actors through the years. When it opened on Broadway in 1977, it starred Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. In 2015, a Broadway revival starred James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson.
“I’ve never seen the play before, but even if I had, I always try to rediscover a play with the particular actors I’m working with and in the particular space we’re presenting it,” Benedetti says. “When we started rehearsing, I envisioned how Suzanne and Jonathan would do their roles. It’s turned out to be just like I imagined.”
The difficulty of presenting The Gin Game, Benedetti says, is that the actors have to play gin throughout most of the script. “The gin game has to support the play’s development,” adds Benedetti. “It has to be choreographed in considerable detail.”
Rather than only seat the audience in front of the stage, Benedetti is placing several rows of seats at the back of the stage to both increase seating capacity and the intimacy of the production.