D(onald) L(ee) Coburn Brendan Gill - Essay

Brendan Gill

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["The Gin Game"] itself hints at the author's youth: by a readily understandable paradox, old playwrights tend to write about the remembered splendors of the past (and tend to get them all wrong), while young playwrights tend to write about the imagined horrors of the future (and tend to get them pretty nearly right). Mr. Coburn is telling us about a couple of miserable inmates of an old people's home, whose plight he observes with an astringent clarity and about whom, at the same time, he manages to be very funny….

Mr. Coburn is also lucky in having the limited action of his play—we are present at four increasingly irascible bouts of gin rummy and at nothing else…. The dramatic function of the buffetings exchanged by the couple are, by the way, curiously old-fashioned; they are the Ibsen-like means of peeling off layer after layer of their earlier lives and holding them up to the still unbearable light of truth. The last notes struck in the play are unalleviatedly despairing, and it is one of the most precious mysteries of the theatre that, having heard these notes struck, we should go up the aisle and out onto Broadway with happy hearts. (p. 93)

Brendan Gill, in The New Yorker (© 1977 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), October 17, 1977.