JoBeth Williams and Joe Spano star in 'The Gin Game.' | Credit: Mike Billings

This outstanding revival of D.L. Coburn’s The Gin Game could not come at a better time. After two years of theater deprivation, seeing brilliant actors like JoBeth Williams and Joseph Spano onstage in a work that requires this level of craft will remind everyone who sees how genuinely magical live performances can be. The setting, brilliantly realized through a beautiful and intricate set design, is the back porch of a down-at-the-heels retirement home. Spano is Weller Martin, a cantankerous former businessman with a temper and a passion for playing cards. When newcomer Fonsia Dorsey, memorably played by Williams, wanders onto Weller’s territory, he pounces, luring her into a seemingly friendly game of gin.

Fonsia feigns ignorance, allowing Weller to assume that she will be an easy mark. When she starts winning, again and again, the play’s tension rises precipitously, along with Weller’s blood pressure. Without spoiling the play’s powerful second act, suffice it to say that there’s a lot more at stake in this simple card game than appears to be the case. Throughout the snaking plot twists and stunning reversals, the two actors keep up the game’s activity with precision, an extraordinary feat of concentration. 

The play explores themes of love, hope, isolation, and deception through these indelible characters without ever slipping into the maudlin or sentimental. When the truth comes out, it’s both shocking and inevitable. Spano and Williams will be touring this show to other regional theaters across the country as a benefit to help small companies get back on their feet. Congratulations to Rubicon and director Jenny Sullivan for producing such an exemplary return to the stage in Ventura.

This edition of ON Culture was originally emailed to subscribers on April 26, 2024. To receive Leslie Dinaberg’s arts newsletter in your inbox on Fridays, sign up at


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