I love being surprised when I go to theater. Recently, I went to a play, MetroStage’s comely The Gin Game, 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. It was music that was clearly not detached from The Gin Game characters as it fashioned my expectations.
With a musical soundscape of mid-century jazz, church gospel, and soulful renditions of songs I thought I knew set-off fascinating vibes within me. The music was an unexpected extra dividend by Thomas W. Jones II and Sound Designer William G. Wacker, a 2014 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth who has only started his career here in the DC area.
The musical selections from pre-show until the final fade provided a wonderfully stimulating ambience that reinforced my overall appreciation for MetroStage’s own take on the decades old Pulitzer Prize-winning The Gin Game by D.L. Coburn. This was not an old-WASPY two-hander set in some once posh senior citizens home. It was a fresh-look with two fine DC area actors getting the featured roles they deserve; Roz White and Doug Brown.
My DCMTA colleague Jane Franklin has praised The Gin Game in her review .
This column is to bring to the fore even more pointedly the enlightening music aspects of a straight play. (The work of Jones and Wacker, have me feel very sorry for the sound designers in New York City who lost their Tony Award category a few years ago. Thankfully, we in the DC area still have a Helen Hayes Award sound design category).
From pre-show to each act and scene, music is a key element to this The Gin Game. I wasn’t just listening to two actors say their lines as written by a playwright. Music added underlying rhythms to their dialogue delivery. Music added major nuance 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 1950’s Doris Day hit, best known to many a Baby Boomer from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew too Much.” This particular entrancing rendition I had not known. Well I do know! 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 Roz White and Doug Brown circled each other sitting around a card table playing cards came the gospel sounds of The Five Blind Boys of Alabama with “Look Where He Brought Me From.”
to float into Lizz Wright’s “Blue Rose”
I was bewitched. What would Act 2 bring? My musical revelry continued with a slow intimate with their clothes on dance to Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald doing “In A Sentimental Mood.”
How could this divine course in music for a straight play continue? Well two more to entice me. The Gin Game concluded with The Harmoneer’s – “Didn’t It Rain?.”
and then Lizz Wright – “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 left us in the later 1980’s to be replaced by a gourmet grocery.
To name just a few, the pre-show and intermission music included the likes of samplings from:
Benny Golson – “Wonder Why”
Chris Potter –“Stella By Starlight”
Dexter Gordon – “Until the Real Thing Comes Along”
Let me mix genre; The Gin Game selections were a schooling as when I saw Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris with its repeated renditions of Sidney Bechet – “Si tu vois ma mère.”
As you see, I was smitten with The Gin Game’s music that bolstered Jones’s directorial vision and the fine performances of Roz White and Doug Brown. The production jumped, dipped, slowed, and swooned, and popped. The Gin Game is no slow show two-hander, but a three character production.
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 Jane Franklin wrote there are many great reasons to take in The Gin Game. Add its vivid soundscape to those reasons. The music gave me another entry point, an enhanced one, into the characters that Roz White and Doug Brown lovingly portray. They are fresh and new.
Running Time: Two hours, including one 15- minute intermission