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THEATER REVIEW 'THE GIN GAME' : Humor's Deal : The D. L. Coburn piece may be a metaphor for life. But the Conejo Players go for the laughs.

February 06, 1992|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Winner of a 1978 Pulitzer Prize and set in a nursing homeL. Coburn's "The Gin Game" is touted as a metaphor for life itself. That it may be, but the play is anything but somber. The audience at Sunday's opening performance by the Conejo Players was laughing throughout.

Retired, crotchety and alone, Weller Martin finds solitaire his sole means of enjoyment--he evidently doesn't read, he doesn't watch television and he definitely doesn't socialize. Martin talks a newcomer to the home, the rather fluttery Fonsia Dorsey, into joining him for a game of gin rummy. For the next 90 minutes, they play gin, and they talk.

The drama passes quickly. During its course, the audience learns to love or loathe gin rummy, Dorsey and Martin learn quite a lot about each other, and one of the two undergoes a dramatic change of character.

No less a pair of actors than Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy took the play, Coburn's first, across the country, filling large theaters with appreciative audiences.

Directed by Marjorie A. Berg, this production stars two longstanding members of the Conejo Players. Rita Freeman and Herm Detering make it look easy; their performances are confident, fluid and authentic. You might want to spend time with either of them . . . but probably not playing gin.

As a production of the Conejo Players' Afternoon Theater, the show plays on Sundays only and therefore must share the stage with the group's continuing nighttime production, "The Boys Next Door." As a result, the action has been shifted from the nursing home's porch to what appears to be a kitchen, with no damage whatever.

Most of the audience at the opening appeared to be about the same age as the characters--senior citizens, that is--and the show's appeal would probably not extend down to those under high school age. A knowledge of the rules of gin rummy isn't mandatory, but fans of the game might appreciate the play on yet another level.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"The Gin Game" continues Sundays through Feb. 23 at the Conejo Players Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks. Performances are at 2:30 p.m. except the 23rd, which is at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 and sold on a first-come, first-served basis; no advance sales or reservations. For information, call 495-3715.

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