A new boost for theater --growing cable-TV audiences
(Page 2 of 2)
In the future, cable companies will undoubtedly be on the lookout all over the country for such "finds." Original local theatrical productions could conceivably be snapped up for cable TV before they are recognized elsewhere, although there will probably always remain a certain commercial mystique about plays "fresh" from Broadway.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"The Gin Game," by D. L. Coburn, staged on Broadway by Mike Nichols, has been directed for this TV version by Terry Hughes. It was first produced in 1976 at the American Theater Arts in Los Angeles, then the Louisville Actors Theater, where Hume Cronyn discovered it and brought it to Broadway in 1978. That year it won the Pulitzer Prize, remaining on Broadway for 517 performances. It has been produced throughout the world since then.
On the surface, the subject matter would seem to be depressing: An aging man and woman in a retirement home discover each other and reveal their character flaws to each other, unable to change them at this late stage in their life. But as portrayed by the meticulously professional but yet warm and humanistic husband-and-wife acting duet on Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, the play takes on a bittersweet, black-comedy air.
It evokes roars of laughter, mixed in with tears of empathy and sympathy, and is not merely about aging. It is about living. Director Hughes has tried to walk a tightrope between the proscenium arch of the theater and the electronic tube of TV. There are curtains and there is a visible (invited) audience.
For TV sitcom viewers, conditioned to invisible laugh-track audiences, those realistic, ever-present, guffawing people may seem to be intruders. But, for others, it is a reminder that they are seeing real theater, with many of the normal distractions of real theater.
"The Gin Game on TV" is what the show should be titled, since that essentially is exactly what it is. It is a lovely if peculiar combination of theater and TV disciplines which work well, if not perfectly, if you are willing to accept the fact that the thrill of being there has been substituted for the convenience of sitting at home comfortably. Certainly the closeups and reaction shots add a dimension to the performance which not even live audiences in the best seats are treated to.
However, "slo-mo" (slow motion) and instant replay may be missed by TV audiences accustomed to those electronic tricks in their sports viewing. But who knows, maybe further Showtime experimentation with theater on TV may bring us even those goodies.
Meantime, though, if you can find your way to a household paying its way for Showtime, see "The Gin Game." It is early theatrical TV but vintage Tandy-Cronyn. And seeing these superb actors totally immerse themselves in their characters could be a compassionate experience for you, the viewer, wherever you are viewing.