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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The soundscape of MetroStage’s ‘The Gin Game’ Rocks!

Fonsia (Roz White) and Weller (Doug Brown). [Photo by Christopher Banks]
By David Siegel

I love being surprised when I go to the theater. Recently, I went to a play, “The Gin Game” (at MetroStage in Alexandria through March 12) and became totally smitten with the textures of its music design. It was a soundscape that coolly conjured me into a specific time, place, and frame-of-mind.

The music – mid-century jazz, church gospel, and soulful renditions of songs I thought I knew –was an unexpected extra dividend.

The musical selections, by director Thomas W. Jones II and sound designer William G. Wacker, a 2014 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, provided a wonderfully stimulating ambiance that reinforced my overall appreciation for MetroStage’s take on the decades-old Pulitzer Prize-winning play by D.L. Coburn.

This was not an old-WASPy two-hander set in some once-posh senior citizens home, as in the original staging. It was a fresh-look with two fine D.C. area actors – Roz White and Doug Brown – getting the featured roles they deserve.

While a previous positive review in DC Metro Arts covered the play itself, this column aims to bring to the fore even more pointedly the enlightening musical aspects of a straight play.

From pre-show to each act and scene, music is a key element to this version of “The Gin Game.” Music added underlying rhythms and nuances to what could have been just two people sitting around talking while playing cards. No indeed.

How so? Well right at the top of the show comes a divine take on that 1950s Doris Day hit, best known to many a Baby Boomer from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” This entrancing rendition I had not known. Well I do now! It was from Sly and the Family Stone with their own “Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).”

Next up in Act 1 was the exquisite beauty of Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments.” Then, as the characters portrayed by White and Brown played cards, came the gospel sounds of the Five Blind Boys of Alabama with “Look Where He Brought Me From.” I was bewitched. What would Act 2 bring? My musical revelry continued with a slow intimate dance to Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald’s “In a Sentimental Mood.”

How could this divine course in music for a straight play continue? Well two more numbers enticed me. “The Gin Game” concluded with the Harmoneer’s “Didn’t It Rain?” and Lizz Wright’s “Vocalese/End of the Line.”

Now, for those who come to a show early, as I do, the pre-show and intermission music is a wonder of jazz. It made me miss terribly an old Alexandria jazz super club I was addicted to, Cates, which was replaced in the latter 1980s by a gourmet grocery.

To name just a few, the pre-show and intermission music included samplings from Benny Golson (“Wonder Why”), Chris Potter (“Stella By Starlight”), and Dexter Gordon (“Until the Real Thing Comes Along”).

MetroStage’s “The Gin Game” left me joyful with its music design. The production was “fluid and seamless,” to borrow a phrase from my chat with MetroStage’s Artistic Director Carolyn Griffin.

As you see, I was smitten with music that bolstered Jones’s directorial vision and the fine performances of Roz White and Doug Brown. The production jumped, dipped, slowed, swooned, and popped. This “Gin Game” is no slow show two-hander, but a three-character production.

Where and when: “The Gin Game” is at MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria. Performances are Wednesdays, Thursdays, and, Fridays (8 p.m.), Saturdays (3 and 8 p.m.), and Sundays (3 and 7 p.m.) through March 12. Tickets are $55 or $60. Purchase tickets online or call the box office at 703-548-9044.

This piece is based on a review that appeared in DC Metro Theater Arts.

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