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The Director
Playwright D.L. Coburn
Crafting a classic
The Characters
A Global Gin Game
Dick Van Dyke
Mary Tyler Moore
Key Scene Study
Playright D.L. Coburn (photo of The Gin Game card table)

Crafting a Classic

The Playwright's Inspiration 


When the play originated in my mind, it was a conflict between a man and a woman. It was not set in an old age home. I saw certain conflicts that I wanted to capture, and I felt that the simplicity of two people and a card game could express a great deal. The card game is a metaphor for fate and how the events of life are dealt to us. We have to play them as they come our way.

I can't really recall the precise time when the characters became older. But it did raise the stakes, and of course it also altered the nature of the work. We can't even conceive of it as taking place at any other place or with people of any other age. That's one of those fortunate things that you find in the process of writing.

I created The Gin Game as a two-character play because I felt that this distilled the conflict down to the basic level that I needed. Other characters weren't essential. It is quite a challenge to create a two-character play that sustains the audience's interest and the dramatic tension, but there's a rhythm to this play.

Part of my inspiration came from the models for the characters. In the case of Weller there were two or three models and in Fonsia at least two.
 

D.L. Coburn
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D.L. Coburn on The Gin Game.
 

The Engine That Drives The Play 


The card playing is the most basic element in the play. It's just a human element that happens to be there, but it's very important because that's what accounts for the mounting anger. Then the gin game itself transforms into something much larger. The fact that it does this explains why it's the engine of the play.

As I was writing, I knew how the particular game being played was going to work and how that was going to play to the next level. There's an arc to the play. There's a building tension, and then there's an ebbing and then renewing of the tension.

Many actors have told me that this is one of the most difficult plays to learn. One of the reasons why is that in most plays, you can memorize the lines by noting that when you're standing at a certain point, you say that line. But here we're playing cards, and the actors are also trying to keep track of whether they're discarding or picking up or going to gin. It can be rather maddening early on, but it does get conquered by every cast, and then it becomes a joy and an embellishment.
 


A Tragicomic Story 


Early on, I was creating what was in my mind a tragedy. The tragicomedy of The Gin Game reminds me of the words Flaubert wrote to his mistress: "We laugh with pity at the vanity of the human will." That is what we're doing here. It's a laughter of pity and recognition and so it is a funny play. But The Gin Game is also tragic because these two people suffer from the human condition and find it very difficult to escape their natural temperaments. This seemingly predestined nature that we each have within us: Can we rise above it when we start recognizing what it is and how it has been creating difficulty in our lives?

This play could be viewed from an existential point of view. I thought that for a long time. But the play is rather simple and straightforward. I'm very pleased that people will view this wonderful production with Dick and Mary and simply enjoy it, without thinking of it in terms of existentialism. But comedy is a wonderful way to give expression to the deeper things that we ponder.
 


Dark Undercurrents 


The director Arvin Brown and I had many talks about the play. He knows how to keep from getting ahead of the conflict, as there are a number of explosions that occur in the play. Each explosion is different and they also are indicative of a much deeper current that's running through this work for both characters.

In the card games, this incredible run of what would appear to be bad luck for Weller is a reflection of all the events that have turned against him in his life. At one explosive point, the play plumbs the idea of divine intervention. There's an almost troubling undercurrent in Weller. Is he actually losing control? Is there a touch of madness or menace entering this picture? From that moment on, Fonsia can never be certain that there isn't something very seriously wrong in the intensity of Weller's rage.

The audience realizes that this is not the funny play they thought it was. At the end of the play, even when the inevitability of the situation would seem apparent to most, there are still people who don't see that. They're laughing and guffawing and others in the audience are saying, "Shh, shh, don't you understand?" To see that happen is fulfilling for me.


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