The powerful script carried the play when I watched the much acclaimed show of “The Gin Game” staged by the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre on July 30, 2004.
The scriptwriter, D.L.Coburn, cleverly used gin, a card game with two players, to illustrate how pride could damage relationship between man and woman. In the play, he twisted an element in life by going against the law of probability to give the experienced gin player, Weller, the man in the play, a complete losing steak when he played against Fonsia, the woman whom he just taught how to play the game. With such a manipulation, he was able to bring out the ridicule of how man and woman needed each other but got overpowered by the individuals’ pride, which brought it to a tragic end of isolation between them.
Besides, by setting the play to be between two seniors in a home for the aged, he took out the sexual element between man and woman and made the conflict a pure play of elemental contradiction due to pride and the unavoidable confrontation so caused. The man’s pride was hurt in the play by kept on losing to the woman while the woman’s pride was hurt when the man tried to peel off her facade which she meticulously built up for herself. This resulted in the man turning abusive and the woman vindictive.
The director, Lee Kwok-wai, managed the tempo of the play well, with the tension in each scene building on the previous ones until the end without losing the wave-form of pullback in the conflict during the course between the two characters. He also had a nice touch at the end by adding a non-verbal scene with Weller and Fonsia sitting a few seats apart in the otherwise empty common room of the old people’s home, watching tv and saying nothing to each other – a complete breakdown of the relationship.
This production gave good attention to details in the set design and the use of costume was effective in bringing the audience into the mood of the characters, going through their happiness and distress together. For instance, in Act 1, Scene 2, when they met again to carry on this new-found relationship, both put on their Sunday best, just like young people dating for the first time. Then in Act 2, Scene 1, in which Weller was trying to apologize to Fonsia about his losing temper when Act 1 ended, he put on a serious looking outfit while Fonsia, who was still mad at Weller for his misbehavior, dressed casually showing no particular expectation of such a relationship.
Such a play is all actors’ dream with only two characters and a convincing script. However, both Sun Limin, playing Weller, and Qin Kefan, playing Fonsia, missed the opportunity to impress in the first scene, in which both actors had too much acting, without substance backing up the lines and actions. Fortunately as the play went on, the script took over and carried both actors into an interesting drama.
Sun Limin did not appear to know why he needed the walking stick on stage and frequently we saw him walking around with the stick in his hand barely touching the floor, almost like a brief-case with a salesman in the street. On the other hand, Qin Kefan downplayed the woman’s pride and appeared to be more a victim than a balanced revengeful counterpart when her pride was hurt. But overall, both actors paid good efforts.
One may or may not agree with D.L.Coburn’s view towards relationship, but it is encouraging that the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre is putting on this kind of “small” plays with big scripts and good quality productions that stimulate our mind.