Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Gin Game
Order Chaos Theater Company
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Ride the Cyclone and The Unsinkable Molly Brown

T. A. Burrows and Barbara McBain
Photo by Todd Sandberg
Donald L. Coburn's two-actor Pulitzer Prize winning play The Gin Game has featured several stellar actors in different productions over the years. It premiered on Broadway in 1977 with Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. I first saw the play when it was revived on Broadway in 1997 with Charles Durning and Julie Harris and it was back on Broadway in 2015 with Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones. Here in Phoenix, Order Chaos Theater Company's solid production features two well-known local actors, Barbara McBain and T. A. Burrows, who are both exceptional as the two strangers who meet over a game of gin in a senior citizen nursing home.

The plot is fairly simple. Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey meet in the game room of the nursing home where they are both recent residents. Weller has been there for a couple of months and Fonsia for just three weeks. Weller invites Fonsia to play gin with him and over the course of a few weeks they bond over their shared dislike of their new home, how they're annoyed by the complaints of the other senior citizens who live there, and their disdain for the constant presence of stewed tomatoes at dinner. They also ask each other about their pasts and discover that they are both divorced with children they barely speak to. They also continue to play gin, which sometimes becomes vicious and vindictive.

While The Gin Game may not be a truly compelling drama, it is an interesting character study and a fantastic play for two senior actors. Coburn uses the card game to show how two intelligent individuals react in their new environment. As Weller and Fonsia challenge each other for dominance in the game, it seems they are also trying to figure out how to find their footing living in a place they never thought they'd be, with few friends and family relationships that aren't as close as they'd hoped for, while also looking back at lives that were mostly unfulfilled. By using these two characters in that way, Coburn beautifully depicts the sad reality of many senior citizens in the United States who find themselves on welfare, alone, and living in a small room in a facility with strangers. He also doesn't feel the need to tie everything up with a big, happy bow at the end, and while that may be a disappointment to those expecting a happy ending it also keeps things steeped in reality.

Under Mark-Alan C. Clemente's sure-footed direction, Barbara McBain and T.A. Burrows shine as this feisty and argumentative duo who form a tenuous relationship over a card table. They are adept at delivering the heavy dramatic moments the script requires as well as the poignant or humorous ones with portrayals that are natural, moving, and even quite heartbreaking at times.

McBain has fun as the woman who discovers she's quite good at gin and at times enjoys goading her opponent on. She is wonderful in showing the heartbreaking reality of this woman, whose relationships with her family members aren't what she'd hoped they would be. Burrows is clear and focused, especially in showing how Weller tries to be the superior in the relationship and how he takes the game very seriously, continually informing Fonsia of the rules of the game. When Weller finds himself losing to Fonsia, Burrows' depiction of Weller's rage, hostility, and insecurities is incredibly realistic. The two appeared together in Driving Miss Daisy several years back and their real-life friendship works quite well to depict these feisty, witty, argumentative, and intelligent friends.

The set design is simple but effective, and the costumes are wonderful. The sound design is natural and additive to the production. Keith McLendon provides some fun voiceovers throughout the show, including a witty bingo game at the scene changes that the audience participates in.

With two excellent performances and clear and crisp direction, The Gin Game at Order Chaos Theater Company is a wonderful character study and a winning production of the prize-winning play.

The Gin Game runs through April 30, 2023, at Order Chaos Theater Company, Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe Street, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit

Director: Mark-Alan C. Clemente
Assistant to the Director: Jean-Paoul C. Clemente
Stage Manager/Board Operator: Kalie Hagen
Executive Producer: Cat Hartmann

Fonsia Dorsey: Barbara McBain
Weller Martin: T. A. Burrows
Voiceovers: Keith McLendon