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Posted July 9, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Award-winning 'The Gin Game' is both tragic and comic

Faith Potts reacts
Faith Potts, as Fonsia Dorsey, reacts as she and James Laster, as Weller Martin, play gin during rehearsal of a scene from Wayside Theatre's upcoming production of "The Gin Game." Dennis Grundman/Daily

Laster and Potts
Laster and Potts play two retirement home residents in "The Gin Game." Dennis Grundman/Daily

James Laster and Faith Potts
James Laster, as Weller Martin, and Faith Potts, as Fonsia Dorsey, play gin. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

MIDDLETOWN -- How many hands of gin rummy does it take to get to know a stranger?

Wayside Theatre plans to show audiences just how two different people can learn about each other in its upcoming production of D.L. Coburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Gin Game."

Director Warner Crocker calls the play "a slice of life" rather than categorize it as either a comedy, a drama or a tragedy, though a book on "The Gin Game" labels it as a "tragicomedy."

The play brings laughs but also some gripping moments "that will rip your heart out," Crocker says.

Crocker warns that the play contains adult language that some theater-goers may find offensive and, were it a movie, he'd give it an R-rating.

Veteran Wayside Theatre actors James Laster and Faith Potts take on the roles of Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey, respectively. Laster has performed in the theater's productions of "The Mousetrap," "A Christmas Carol," "Unnecessary Farce," "Tuesdays With Morrie," and "Black Coffee." Potts has performed at the theater in "Driving Miss Daisy," "Lying in State," and "Hank Williams: Lost Highway."

"The Gin Game" takes place in a dilapidated retirement home in which Weller has lived for several months but Fonsia only a few weeks, according to Crocker. The two meet, and, while playing gin rummy, learn about each other's lives. The play comes off at times humorous but also shows their loneliness and frustration.

Potts describes her character as depressed by having to move into the home. Both Weller and Fonsia, however, come across as more aware, or "less senile" than other residents and the two are drawn together as a result.

"The two of them are from completely different backgrounds," Crocker says. "Through the game they find out how similar they are."

Potts describes her character as more prim and proper and almost opposite of Martin whose language comes off as harsh at times.

"Weller hates to lose," Laster says.

The two characters play 14 hands of gin in about a week, Laster says.

When Potts and Laster started rehearsals, the actors read through their lines and then started playing gin. The actors recalled the difficulty they faced by having to recite their lines while shuffling, dealing and playing cards.

"You do find out a lot about other people playing games," Potts says.

The play has survived for more than three decades since its Broadway debut in 1977, when Hume Cronin and Jessica Tandy took the roles of Weller and Fonsia. Crocker says it's considered an American classic.

Playing the characters, both of whom are in their 70s, isn't a stretch in age for the two Wayside actors, who actually have performed even older roles.

"I find it an honor to play older characters," says Potts.

While the plot centers around the game, Crocker and the actors note the play also touches on a topic still pertinent today -- that of the "warehousing" of elderly Americans into retirement homes and other facilities.

"I think this play offers something that allows us to see the other side of it, what they are thinking, what they are dealing with," Laster says.

"I think it will be a very rich experience for the audience," Potts adds.

The set will be designed by Til Turner, costumes by Catherine Lovejoy, sound by Steve Przybylski and lighting by Paul Callahan.

The first performance of "The Gin Game" takes place July 18 with opening night July 19. The play runs through Aug. 15. Tickets are $25 and $30, with tickets for children 17 and younger at $10. Discounts for students, seniors and groups are available with information available at the box office 869-1776.

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