Theatre in Review

If you saw "The Gin Game", a timely play about the coming together of two lonely but feisty seniors at a run-down nursing home, when you were younger - you should see it again now at Drury Lane. 

John Reeger and Paula Scrofano, a long-time married couple who met at Northwestern University and raised a family while carving out distinguished theatrical reputations for themselves, play these roles with gusto and finesse. 

Taking on the roles of Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey, like other great acting couples before them - Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy or Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke, John Reeger and Paula Scrofano pull out all the emotional stops to reveal the inner turmoil of seniors who have been left alone at the end of their lives to basically die in a dilapidated nursing home because they have both lost everything they own to their children or the state and are on Medicare.  

As they discuss and complain intermittently about all the problems seniors are still facing today, like poor nutrition, lack of stimulation in adult activities, and having their most precious belongings stolen, the audience sadly realizes that nothing has changed for seniors affected by catastrophic illness and the increasingly unreasonable, high costs of healthcare since "The Gin Game" first came out. 

Videographer Mike Tutaj, lights up the shabby, depressing and realistic set design by Katherine Ross with a series of beautiful and poignant slideshow type images from a variety of nursing homes that the audience can really identify with in how nursing homes are run today, especially if you are not wealthy enough to be placed in a fancier gated community.

Ross Lehman directs this very talented couple, Reeger and Scrofano, with an understanding and yet demanding pace that sets the characters on fire as their life stories come tumbling out one dealt card at a time. Over a series of gin games (often humorously played out), our characters get to know each other better and better while reluctantly revealing how their own personal tempers and foibles contributed in part to the broken relationships with their children. 

I saw the play years ago but this time, having dealt personally with the placement of four family members of different ages each with debilitating disabilities and dwindling financial resources beyond their control, I found it even more satisfying to watch. The crowd I joined at the opening was mostly between the ages of fifty and ninety-years-old and undoubtedly related to these very same, sad and lonely circumstances that are inevitable for so many senior citizens, as perhaps many younger audience members realized the same for their aging parents or grandparents. 

I can't rave enough about the fine performances by the semi-retired John Reeger and Paula Scrofano. The pair push each other’s buttons as only a real married couple can and display a sharp sense of timing and emotional flexibility rarely seen in younger actors. The couple also show off their fine comedic mastery.  

I highly recommend this thought provoking, totally timeless and relevant production in which Reeger and Scrofano use every single word, every gesture to brilliantly drive home the message that senior citizens are every bit as sharp and full of emotional and physical needs for fulfillment and daily entertainment as their younger counterparts.

This is a darkly funny and meaningful production the entire family young and old should see together, if only to wake up and realize we all will be old someday, and, if we don't make changes to preserve and increase the coverage of Medicare and Medicaid, we are dooming ourselves and our children to retirements that look more like "jails for those who have lived too long" instead of clean and comfortable homes to retire in. 

"The Gin Game" is being performed at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook through August 13th. For more information visit www.drurylanetheatre.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

King of the Yees, now playing at the Goodman Theatre through April 30, is full of laughs and wisdom. Both touching and endearing, the play - with themes of family, community and tradition - takes a look at one Chinese-American family’s attempt to bridge the generation gap.

 

Written by Lauren Yee and directed by Joshua Kahan Brody, King of the Yees features Lauren and her father Larry Yee as central characters in this off-beat, quirky, yet totally relevant production that explores the history of patriarchal family groups like the Yee Fung Toy association in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

 

King of the Yees is only kind of true—just like the stories your father once told you as a child,” said Lauren. “Growing up, I never understood what the Yee Fung Toy – a club of Yees – was, or why people were a part of it. With this play, I’ve been able to explore not only my own self-consciousness within my community, but it’s also shed light on how that is a universal experience. With every generation, there is a feeling of being unworthy and being unprepared to take up the cultural mantle. In a way, this play is a hero’s quest that celebrates those feelings of inadequacy.”

 

Established hundreds of years ago, family associations were a way to provide resources and community in the face of the discrimination that so many Chinese-American families experienced. These mainly men’s clubs became very powerful over the years. However, as a new generation began to take its place in world, these groups that limited the roles of women among other things, were often viewed as obsolete and unappealing.

 

King of the Yees examines that waning influence and the emotional impact on families in a performance that is infectious, interactive, metaphysical but always heartfelt.

 

Larry Yee, brilliantly played by Francis Jue, is the gregarious and engaging head of the Yee family association, which is dedicated to the preservation of the Yee line. Lauren (Stephenie Soohyun Park) is dismissive of the purpose and necessity of such a club and to the surprise and dismay of her father plans to move to Berlin with her Jewish husband. A disappointed Larry suddenly goes missing and Lauren’s frantic search for him takes her to an abstract world full of symbolism from the past with lessons for the future. That journey leads her not only to her father but to a better understanding of the family association and the community and traditions he is trying to preserve.

 

King of the Yees is filled with a small but versatile cast (Daniel Smith, Angel Lin and Rammel Chan) who capably play a variety of roles during the two-act production.

 

The set design is simple but effective, mainly consisting of a large ceremonial door that is very significant to the storyline. Also, the use of projections on the back wall of the stage was very creative. The design team includes William Boles (set), Izumi Inaba (costumes), Heather Gilbert (lighting), Mikhail Fiksel (sound) and Mike Tutaj (projections).  

 

Recommended.

 

King of the Yees runs through April 30 in the Owen Theatre at the Goodman. Tickets are available online at GoodmanTheatre.org/Yees.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

 

 

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