Jerry Palladino saw the original Broadway production of “The Gin Game,” which opened in 1977, starring Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronin. He was hooked.
Now he’s bringing this Pulitzer Prize-winning play to the Fresno Art Museum in a series of fundraising performances for the museum. It opens Friday. I caught up with via email to talk about the show.
Q: Briefly put, what is "The Gin Game" about?
A: Weller Martin, an elderly man, and Fonsia Dorsey, an elderly woman, meet by chance in a retirement home where they are residents. They strike up an acquaintance. Weller then invites Fonsia to play a friendly game of gin. During repeated games played together, Fonsia always wins, adding to Weller's distress. The games alter the nature of their friendship, as they slowly come to grips with the reality of coping with what is left of their lonely lives in old age.
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Q: What drew you to this particular title?
A: I was fortunate to see the play on Broadway starring Hume Cronin and Jessica Tandy. I was fascinated with the scripted dialogue, funny at times, while at other times sad and downbeat. I was curious in the process of playing repeated games of gin by the characters, how Weller would deal with Fonsia always winning, and how it would affect losing his emotional control. I was touched seeing the characters face the realities of the mistakes they made in their earlier lives that would result, in the loneliness they endured in their final years of their lives. How sad that an unwillingness to recognize and deal with mistakes and errors of judgement early on would result in a self-induced isolation in their later years of life.
Q: Art and Charlene Cano, who are husband and wife, play the two characters in the show. What is it like directing a married couple? What qualities do they bring as actors?
A: I have known Art and Charlene a long while and worked closely with them at Fresno Soap Co Stage. Charlene also appeared in the CURTAIN 5 TheatreGROUP production of “Spiritual Healing” last season. Both are skilled actors who not only get into the skins of the characters they portray, but they understand what drives those characters. I chose the play with Art and Charlene in mind.
After reading the play and watching two DVD presentations I gave them, one with Hume Cronin and Jessica Tandy and the other with Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, they were on board. The fact they are married, I also knew they would have sufficient time together to understand their characters and bring them effectively to life. Both actors are focused in their attention to detail. Directing them was a labor of love. I am confident their portrayals will surely have everyone in the audience, young and old, find something personal in themselves to carry away after seeing the play.
Q: The play was written decades ago. Some plays age well, and others don't. What do you think it is about "The Gin Game" that still makes it relevant today?
A: I believe this play remains relevant today because it's an honest depiction of how we all live our lives, make mistakes and sometimes fail to correct them. If we alienate ourselves from our families while young, we cannot expect them to be there when we are old. This play examines life with moments of lightness, humor and sadness. It examines the pains of loneliness, if we allow the important things in our lives to slip away, when we could have recognized them early on and kept them constant. The play looks at the spoils of selfishness, and the despair it creates in old age.
Q: What do you hope audiences will take away from this play?
A: I hope my interpretation entertains audiences and brings them a bit of laughter and memories of their parents and other older individuals who are part of their lives. I hope there will be moments that touch their hearts and bring a sense of reality about the joys, sorrows, heartaches of leaving childhood, becoming adults and facing the years that pass us by with a greater realization that growing older doesn't always make us lonely and alienated from the younger population. I trust the play will help the audience realize that accepting responsibility for one's life by being more positive can mean having a fuller life when we are older.
Q: This production is a benefit for the Fresno Art Museum. You put on "ART" last year for the same cause. Tell us why you do this.
A: Being a Trustee of the Fresno Art Museum is a privilege. I have always had a passion for all the cultural arts from an early age. My family instilled in me an appreciation of the visual arts, sculpture, opera, ballet, theater, classical and popular music and a sense of community service. On every nonprofit board I serve, I support the organization it represents with total commitment. As a FAM Trustee, I do all I can to help raise funds to keep the museum be closely aligned with its objectives to exhibit fine art that will be enjoyed by every Valley visitor, as well as insure the museum continues to develop significant programs that educate Valley youth about art. Being an actor and director, I can use my skills to bring theater to our community by underwriting an annual production and contribute 100% of all funds raised through tickets sales to benefit the museum.
Q: For those who don't know about your CURTAIN 5 company, give us a rundown.
A: When I founded CURTAIN 5 TheatreGROUP in 2012, I made a decision to focus on staging original work by Fresno and Valley writers. With the exception of a classic comedy or drama I stage annually to benefit the Fresno Art Museum, I seek out works submitted by local writers, and for scripts worthy of staging, I work directly with the writers to bring their written words to life in the intimate setting of a 50-seat venue in Fresno’s Tower District.
The Fresno Soap Co. Stage, Gallery & Studio, CURTAIN 5's performance home, is owned and operated by R.S. Scott. The venue is under renovation and upgrading. Previously The Broken Leg Stage, Fresno Soap Co. is now home to theater, dance, film production, improvisation and a host of other lively arts projects. I sponsored a writing competition at Roosevelt School of the Arts in 2015 and have produced four new students works, two in January and the final two this December.
I have staged five plays by Andrew Champagne; two are award winners for outstanding playwriting in a Hollywood competition. I've produced three plays by Cyrus Kinsel, a Fresno State journalism major, two of which were in the 2016 and 2017 Rogue Festival, as well as a new work in the 2017 CURTAIN 5 Season, premiering in January, from Jesse Parr, a Fresno City College theater arts major. All endeavors at CURTAIN 5 TheatreGROUP have been financially profitable for the nonprofit and continue to allow me to reinvest in future productions for our local community.
Q: Anything else you'd like to say?
A: I am always grateful to you and The Fresno Bee for supporting my work in local community theater. I owe a debt of gratitude to former Founder and Artistic Director, Gordon Goede, of Theatre 3, for giving me a wonderful role in Steve Martin's adaptation of a turn of the century German farce, “The Underpants,” when I returned to my hometown eleven years ago. I recreated the same role of the crusty curmudgeon, when “The Underpants” was directed at Fresno Soap Co. in 2014 by R.S. Scott. I feel privileged to be able to do my part in strengthening the arts in Fresno. Local theater is thriving, and I am happy CURTAIN 5 is helping to make that happen.
The Gin Game
- Nov. 11-20
- Fresno Art Museum, 2233 N. First St.
- www.brownpapertickets.com, 559-441-4221.