The Gin Game

The Gin Game
Written by Donald L. Coburn
Characters Weller Martin
Fonsia Dorsey
Date premiered September 24, 1976
Place premiered American Theater Arts
Hollywood, California
Original language English
Genre Tragi-Comedy
Official site

The Gin Game is a two-person, two-act play by Donald L. Coburn that premiered at American Theater Arts in Hollywood in September 1976, directed by Kip Niven. It was Coburn's first play, and the theater's first production. The play won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.


Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey, two elderly residents at a nursing home for senior citizens, strike up an acquaintance. Neither seems to have any other friends, and they start to enjoy each other's company. Weller offers to teach Fonsia how to play gin rummy, and they begin playing a series of games that Fonsia always wins. Weller's inability to win a single hand becomes increasingly frustrating to him, while Fonsia becomes increasingly confident.

While playing their games of gin, they engage in lengthy conversations about their families and their lives in the outside world. Gradually, each conversation becomes a battle, much like the ongoing gin games, as each player tries to expose the other's weaknesses, to belittle the other's life, and to humiliate the other thoroughly.

Production history

The play premiered in a production by American Theatre Arts in Los Angeles, California in September 1976, directed by Kip Niven. The play went on to be presented at the Actors Theatre of Louisville festival of new plays, the Long Wharf Theatre (New Haven) in July 1977, and the Wilbur Theatre, Boston.[1][2]

The Gin Game opened on Broadway on October 6, 1977 at the John Golden Theatre and closed on December 31, 1978 after 517 performances. The play was directed by Mike Nichols and starred the married couple Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.[3] The play has come to be closely associated with them. Cronyn and Tandy were succeeded in the original Broadway run by E. G. Marshall and Maureen Stapleton.

It was produced in the United Kingdom in 1999 with Joss Ackland and Dorothy Tutin at the Savoy Theatre, directed by Frith Banbury.

Romanian director Liviu Ciulei directed the Romanian premiere at the Bulandra Theatre in 1980.[4]

It was revived on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre from April 20, 1997 to August 31, 1997, for 145 performances. Charles Durning and Julie Harris co-starred, directed by Charles Nelson Reilly. It received several Tony Award nominations, including for Best Revival of a Play.[5] This production had a seven-month tour, starting in Durham, North Carolina in October 1998.[6] The tour played an engement at the Wilshire Theater, Los Angeles, California, in December 1998. The Variety reviewer wrote: "Some of the actors’ movements in the early going could be smoother and less artificial, and the climactic moments of the final scene are more baffling than illuminating, but overall, Charles Nelson Reilly’s direction reflects a keen sensitivity to the play’s finer, unspoken points. Durning and Harris are delightful as the sparring duo. Their masterful work makes this “Gin Game” a sure bet."[7]

The play has been revived on Broadway in a limited run, at the John Golden Theatre, on September 23, 2015 in previews, officially on October 14, 2015 with an expected closing date of January 10, 2016. It stars James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson, with direction by Leonard Foglia.[8]


Adaptations for television versions were made in 1981 with Cronyn and Tandy. Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore appeared in a televised film on PBS in May 2003.[9]

Awards and nominations

The Gin Game won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for 1978. The Pulitzer jury, in awarding the prize, said: "The one new play...of sufficient originality, invention and staying power was 'The Gin Game'".[10]



  1. Coburn, D. L. "History", September 1998, accessed November 19, 2015
  2. Coburn, D. L., "Introduction", The Gin Game: A Tragi-comedy in Two Acts, Samuel French, Inc., 1977, ISBN 0573609764, p. 1
  3. "'The Gin Game' 1977", accessed November 19, 2015
  5. "'The Gin Game' 1997", accessed November 19, 2015
  6. Klein, Alvin. "Theater. A Pair of Players Who Can Play Abandonment With Abandon" New York Times, February 14, 1999
  7. Linden, Sheri. "Review: ‘The Gin Game’" Variety, December 3, 1998
  8. "'The Gin Game' 2015", accessed November 19, 2015
  9. Hart, Hugh. "Rob and Laura shuffle the deck / Van Dyke, Moore in 'The Gin Game'", May 3, 2003
  10. Fischer, Heinz-D. (ed.), "History of the Award", Chronicle of the Pulitzer Prizes for Drama: Discussions, Decisions and Documents, Walter de Gruyter, 2008, ISBN 3598441207, p. 22
  11. "Pulitzer Prize for Drama", accessed November 19, 2015


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