Marianne Owen and Kurt Beattie play a hand of cards and share life stories in “The Gin Game.” (Village Theater photo)

Marianne Owen and Kurt Beattie play a hand of cards and share life stories in “The Gin Game.” (Village Theater photo)

‘The Gin Game’ showcases two longtime Seattle theater pros

The married duo of Kurt Beattie and Marianne Owen are superb in the Village Theatre production.

Since the “The Gin Game” opened on Broadway in 1977, acting greats Hume Cronyn and his wife Jessica Tandy have been synonymous with the tragic-comedy about aging and relationships.

But now our region has its own Cronyn and Tandy.

Longtime Seattle theater professionals Kurt Beattie and Marianne Owen, who are married, are outstanding as Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey in Village Theatre’s production, which continues its run this week, with performances through March 25 at the Everett Performing Arts Center.

The two-person, two-act play won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the Tony Award for best play in 1978. It’s a must-see.

Cronyn and Tandy also starred in a 1981 TV adaptation of the play, and many well-known actors have performed it since — including Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson, Charles Durning and Julie Harris, and E.G. Marshall and Maureen Stapleton.

The characters Weller and Fonsia live in a rather run-down retirement home. They become friends when they realize they share a certain disdain for the home and its regular activities for the senior residents. Instead they start playing gin rummy at a card table on the home’s back porch.

Weller helps Fonsia remember how to play, but soon she is winning every game. Weller can’t claim a single hand. As Fonsia gains confidence, his frustration grows.

And then they begin to talk about their lives, at first glossing over the sadness of their pasts, but building on their friendship.

After awhile, however, their conversations turn just as contentious as their spirited card games. They attempt to humiliate and belittle each other, finally exposing the truth about their backgrounds.

“The Gin Game” isn’t a play for children. Weller swears constantly, which most of the time is hilarious. He even pushes the polite Fonsia to utter an especially bad word.

Beattie and Owen pitched a production of the play to Village Theatre, which offers one play a year in the midst of its season of musicals. Village jumped at the chance to shine the spotlight on Beattie and Owen.

Because this couple know each other so well, the action on stage is physical, seamless and entirely believable. Everett’s opening-night audience was sucked right in.

If you go, be sure to read the Q&A in the show’s program. Owen and Beattie reveal that they wanted to do the play in order to work closely with each other. The actors also talk about challenge of playing the card game while saying their lines.

“There are four card games in each scene and the lines in the script are different from what you’re going to get on any draw,” Owen said.

“It’s a great technical challenge for the performers,” Beattie said. “It’s sort of great to be an old pro, so to speak, and to step up to the plate and test oneself in this kind of piece. We’re just honored and privileged to be able to have the chance to do it.”

Beattie, 70, has been a professional actor since age 10. His credits as an actor, director, playwright, dramaturge and producer include those with ACT, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Shakespeare Co., Intiman, The 5th Avenue and the old Empty Space.

Owen, who is younger than her husband, has been performing in Seattle for more than 30 years and even longer in productions around the country. Her credits include performances with ACT, Seattle Repertory, The 5th Avenue, Seattle Children’s, Seattle Shakespeare, Empty Space and Intiman.

Written by D.L. Coburn, the “The Gin Game” is directed by Jeff Steitzer and stage-managed by Catherine Costanzo. As usual, Bill Forrester’s set is wonderful. Other production designers include Laura Crow, Rick Paulsen and Brent Warwick.

If you go

“The Gin Game” is at Everett Performing Arts Center through March 25. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, except March 25, which has the matinee only.

For more information, go to www.villagetheatre.org/everett/the-gin-game or call the box office at 425-257-8600.

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