D(onald) L(ee) Coburn Stanley Kauffmann - Essay

Stanley Kauffmann

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The gin games [in The Gin Game] are presumably meant as double symbols: first, as a geriatric substitute for courtship-and-sex, in which [the female protagonist] is unwelcomely, even unwillingly, dominant; second, as an x-ray exposure of [the two main] characters, revealing darknesses in both, beneath the cozy old-folks exteriors.

The only really interesting aspect of this play is that there's another play lurking within it. The author, D. L. Coburn, whose first play this is, may be delighted with this production for all I know, but it occurred to me while watching it that the very same text could be legitimately used to less conventional ends. The Gin Game is now being done in (let's call it) the Paddy Chayefsky-Neil Simon vein: "We are ruthless modern truthtellers who scrape a whole fat millimeter below the Norman Rockwell surface, and we prove our bona fides by not giving you the hand-in-hand sunset-trail ending you expected." But this script could, I think, be played so that the ending is not a surprise, but inevitable, so that the intent is not to put a stinger at the end of a bittersweet piece of candy but to strip away some of the sentimental prerogatives of old age. If these two old people exploited their age, as stupid or vicious or spoiled elderly people often do, knowing even with each other—that they were claiming wisdom and respect the way one claims a pension, just because one has reached the right age; if it were the intent to show that age, not patriotism, is the last refuge of scoundrels, this might have been a moderately scathing play.

But it wouldn't have been a hit. So we get a "realistic" play instead of a real one. (p. 24)

Stanley Kauffmann, in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1977 by The New Republic, Inc.), November 12, 1977.