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Westside audiences, rejoice: Theatricum brings acclaimed
production of ‘The Gin Game’ to its outdoor stage in Topanga
TOPANGA, Calif. (July 16, 2019) — Westside audiences are in for a treat. Last season’s acclaimed, Ovation recommended production of The Gin Game, directed by Christian Lebano at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, will be re-staged outdoors at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum, with real life husband and wife team Alan Blumenfeld and Katherine James reprising their roles. With Lebano again at the helm, performances of D.L Coburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning two-hander will run Aug. 17 through Sept. 29 in Theatricum’s intimate S. Mark Taper Pavilion.
Longtime Theatricum company members, Blumenfeld and James star as a pair of elderly residents in a nursing home who strike up a stormy friendship while playing gin rummy. The irascible Weller Martin struggles with “the incredible run of luck” enjoyed by self-righteous Fonsia Dorsey, who beats him consistently — even though she’s just learned the game and he’s been playing for years. As they play, they reveal secrets that get used against each other, and the game becomes a metaphor for their lives.
“It deals with people who at a very late age confront many areas of their lives which have remained unexamined,” Coburn said in an interview with The New York Times. “This coming to a greater knowledge of self is a painful experience — at any age. But, when nearing the end of life, to have revelations about your entire life and all the choices you’ve made, that’s a cataclysmic experience. In the nursing home they repeat their life pattern. I guess the play says we can’t get too far away from ourselves.”
Partly inspired by his aunt’s experiences at a nursing home in Coburn’s home city of Baltimore, The Gin Game premiered at the 49-seat American Theater Arts in Hollywood in 1976. It opened on Broadway in Oct., 1977, directed by Mike Nichols and starring another married couple: Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. The Gin Game was awarded the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and has since had productions in virtually every country of the western world, as well as heralded productions in Australia, Japan and China.
Broadway World senior editor Don Grigware called the Sierra Madre production “Brilliant… exceedingly funny [and] seriously disquieting.” Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle member Frances Baum Nicholson, writing for Southern California News Group (10 daily papers, including the L.A. Daily News and Pasadena Star-News) raved, “A winning hand…. produced with great polish and passion… impressive.” In his “Top Ten” review for Los Angeles theater site Stage Raw, theater critic Neal Weaver praised the “terrific performances… [Blumenfeld and James] are a married couple who work together as a splendid team.”
A company member for over 30 years, Blumenfeld has graced the stage at Theatricum Botanicum dozens of times, including as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor (Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award), Gloucester in King Lear and Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet.
James has appeared at Theatricum in Heartbreak House, The Winter’s Tale and Lysistrata, among others.
The couple previously starred together in Theatricum productions of Tone Clusters by Joyce Carol Oates and Talley’s Folly by Lanford Wilson.
Lebano is the artistic director of Sierra Madre Playhouse. His many directing credits include Woman in Mind (Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice”), Deathtrap (Ovation award) and The Glass Menagerie (Ovation nominated).
The Theatricum creative team includes costume designer Elizabeth Nankin, sound designer Barry Schwam and choreographer Cate Caplin. The stage manager is Kim Cameron. Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum produces in partnership with the Sierra Madre Playhouse.
Theatricum Botanicum has been named “One of the 50 Coolest Places in Los Angeles” by Buzz magazine, “One of Southern California’s most beguiling theater experiences” by Sunset magazine, and “Best Theater in the Woods” by the LA Weekly. “The enchantment of a midsummer night at Theatricum Botanicum [makes it] crystal clear why audiences have been driving up into the hills since Theatricum’s maiden season way back in 1973. Summer Shakespeare doesn’t get any better than this,” writes StageSceneLA. Says Los Angeles magazine, “The amphitheater feels like a Lilliputian Hollywood Bowl, with pre-show picnics and puffy seat cushions, yet we were close enough to see the stitching on the performers costumes. Grab a blanket and a bottle and head for the hills.” In 2017, Theatricum was named “one of the best outdoor theaters around the world” by the Daily Beast.
Theatricum’s beginnings can be traced to the early 1950s when Will Geer, a victim of the McCarthy era Hollywood blacklist (before he became known as the beloved Grandpa on The Waltons), opened a theater for blacklisted actors and folk singers on his property in Topanga. Friends such as Ford Rainey, John Randolph and Woody Guthrie joined him on the dirt stage for vigorous performances and inspired grassroots activism, while the audiences sat on railroad ties. Today, two outdoor amphitheaters are situated in the natural canyon ravine, where audiences are able to relax and enjoy the wilderness during an afternoon or evening’s performance. Theatricum is the recipient of multiple awards, including the Margaret Harford Award for “sustained excellence,” which is the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle’s highest honor.
Performances of The Gin Game take place Aug. 17 through Sept. 29, with all performances starting at 1 p.m. on the following Saturdays and Sundays: Aug. 17, 24, 31; Sept. 14, 15, 21, 22, 28, 29. Tickets are $38. Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, midway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. For more information and to purchase tickets, call 310–455-3723 or go to www.theatricum.com. Visit Theatricum on facebook: www.facebook.com/theatricum. Follow us on twitter: @theatricum and instagram: @theatricum_botanicum.
Theatricum’s S. Mark Taper Pavilion is terraced into the hillside; audience members are advised to dress casually and to bring sunscreen, water, a hat and cushions for bench seating. Patrons are welcome to picnic before or after the performance.
Details for Calendar Listings
‘The Gin Game’
The Gin Game — Real life husband and wife Alan Blumenfeld and Kathrine James star in D.L Coburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play. The irascible Weller Martin and self-righteous Fonsia Dorsey share a mutual love of gin rummy. As they play, they reveal secrets that get used against each other – and the game becomes a metaphor for their lives. Presented outdoors at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga, in partnership with the Sierra Madre Playhouse.
• Written by Donald L. Coburn
• Directed by Christian Lebano
• Starring Alan Blumenfeld and Katherine James
• Presented by Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum in partnership with Sierra Madre Playhouse
Performances: Aug, 17–Sept. 29:
• Saturday, Aug. 17 at 1 p.m.
• Saturday, Aug. 24 at 1 p.m.
• Saturday, Aug. 31 at 1 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 14 at 1 p.m.
• Sunday, Sept. 15 at 1 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 21 at 1 p.m.
• Sunday, Sept. 22 at 1 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 28 at 1 p.m.
• Sunday, Sept. 29 at 1 p.m.
Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum
1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga CA 90290
(midway between Pacific Coast Highway and the Ventura Freeway)
• Adults: $38
• Seniors (65+), Students, Military Veterans, Teachers, AEA Members: $25/$15
• Children (5-15): $10
• Children 4 and under: Free
Thearicum’s S. Mark Taper Pavilion is terraced into the hillside; audience members are advised to dress casually and to bring sunscreen, water, a hat and cushions for bench seating. Patrons are welcome to picnic before or after the performance.