Think you might not be inspired by watching two people talking and playing cards on stage throughout a full two-act play?
Think again, say veteran Nelson actors Michael Graham and Pat Henman about their production of The Gin Game, coming up at the Capitol Theatre later this month.
“There are lots of ups and downs and turns, it is very much a roller coaster ride, and there are so many great lines,” says Henman.
“There is a lot of humour in it, but it’s dark,” says Graham.
“It’s a black comedy,” Henman says. “We talk about everything in the world and there is humour in everything in the world, but you will also find pain and sadness. All those things go together and that makes up life.”
Henman and Graham, both household names in Nelson theatre, have 80 years of acting experience between them.
The Gin Game by D.L. Coburn won the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 and ran for more than a year on Broadway. It’s about two people in a seniors home. One is a new resident and the other has been there a few months. When the play begins they are strangers but they form a friendship and learn about each other’s lives while playing gin.
Will their intense competition in the game make or break their relationship? That’s one of the central questions, Graham and Henman say, but they refuse to divulge the answer to the Star.
However, they are eager to talk about the overall message.
“These two get left out,” Henman says. “Almost all seniors do. (Our characters) are just as important as you who are 20 or 30 or 40. We want to be just as important, we want to be needed, we want to be loved. We need to appreciate everybody, including our seniors.”
Graham says audiences will go away thinking about this “because there are a lot of old people coming up the ranks now, and things have got to change. We need to make room for them.”
Seniors often get socially isolated, and the two characters in The Gin Game are no exception.
“My character has just arrived in that place,” Henman says. “So I think about that space between her living a normal life and then moving into this place where she doesn’t know anyone. She has a tiny room. She had to get rid of all her stuff. That is devastating. I knew it before but now I know it even more.”
Has aging changed in the 45 years since the play was written? Yes and no, the actors say.
“The big thing is health: what are you being treated for, what kind of pills are you on, where are you doing your funeral arrangements,” says Graham. “They talked about it then and they talk about it now.”
The two characters are in their seventies, but “that’s the new sixty,” Henman says. “The 75 year olds are out there skiing these days.”
She says that’s because of changes in both medicine and attitudes.
“Instead of being weak and walking with a cane at 75 and living in a home, I bet if you looked at who is in a home today there are not many 75 year olds.”
But the issues facing people in such homes may still be the same: isolation, loneliness, declining health and perhaps unfinished business. The Gin Game looks at these things unflinchingly and the actors feel it.
“Michael and I are not as old as the characters, but for me, I go, oh my God, in 20 years this could be me, and I don’t want to be there. We have that message that needs to go out, and the audiences will be walking away thinking about it.”
“They will be thinking about a lot of things,” says Graham. “Some funny stuff. Some sad stuff.”
The Gin Game is directed by Nelson actor Lindsay Clague in her first outing as a director, with stage design by artist Shane Brandel, also a theatre stage first-timer.
The play runs on March 22, 23, and 24 at 7:30 p.m. with tickets available at the Capitol box office.