James Earl Jones may be 84 years old, but he is technically the youngest cast member in the Broadway revival of D.L. Coburn’s 1976 Pulitzer-winning comedic drama “The Gin Game,” seeing as he is joined only by 90-year-old, newly named Kennedy Center honoree Cicely Tyson.
Jones and Tyson are both deeply accomplished stage and film veterans with recent Broadway credits. While Jones performed in “You Can’t Take It With You” last season, Tyson earned a Tony Award in 2013 for “The Trip to Bountiful.”
Set on the cluttered back porch of a rundown nursing facility, the combative and cursing Weller (Jones) meets the newly arrived, lost-looking Fonsia (Tyson). He then takes out his deck of cards and asks her to join him in a game of gin gummy.
Just minutes after learning how to play, Fonsia wins a game, and then proceeds to beat Weller again and again without breaking a sweat, much to Weller’s surprise and frustration. Fonsia, who originally seemed so delicate, proves to have a back bone.
Over several scenes and many rounds of cards, they force each other to open up about their pasts and what led them to their current living space, where they are removed from friends and family and practically penniless.
Although it’s hard to believe that it deserved a Pulitzer Prize, “The Gin Game” is a nice little play about an unlikely friendship, and Leonard Foglia’s revival is generally pleasant.
Showing strong chemistry, Jones and Tyson make fine sparring partners. With pitch-perfect delivery, Jones digs into every line with fervor, booming bombast and an endearingly cranky spirit, while Tyson has a warm presence and navigates her character’s dramatic moments with aplomb.