Mary Lucy Bivins, left, and Richard Rose star in 'Gin Game.'
Barter veteran Eugene Wolfe knows a thing or two about the kind of explosive situations that can result from a simple game of cards, which he wasn’t allowed to play growing up because they were “of the devil,” according to his grandmother.
His mother loved to play, however, and one summer when he went to stay with her, she taught him the game of Rook.
“One Saturday night, we gathered at Mrs. Brown’s with some of the women of the trailer park to play a tournament of canasta,” Wolfe recalls. “I didn’t know that game. I just sat and watched. They drank beer and threw their heads back and laughed. It was all fun and games until in one lightning round my mother ‘went out,’ leaving Mrs. Brown with a huge handful of cards. Suddenly, the mood changed and Mrs. Brown began to yell at my mother, ‘I wouldn’t have the heart to treat a dog like that!’ Oops.
“Needless to say, my mother jumped up and whisked me and her out of there, leaving behind a few choice words that might have come from the mouth of the devil. An explosion fueled by the playing of cards. Lesson learned.”
A card game is also at the heart of Barter Theatre’s newest production — “The Gin Game,” opening Wednesday at Barter Stage II — which Wolfe directs.
D.L. Coburn’s explosive play premiered on Broadway in 1977 and starred husband and wife team Jessica Tandy and Barter alum Hume Cronyn. Winner of multiple Tony Awards and the 1978 Pulitzer Prize, “The Gin Game” has been called a “perfect play ... A stunning piece of theatre” by the The Boston Globe.
Richard Rose and Mary Lucy Bivins star in Barter’s production of the play, in which a simple game of cards quickly escalates into a vicious battle of wits. Fonsia (Bivins) and Weller (Rose) are acquaintances, connected only by their mutual loathing of the nursing home in which they live. As the game continues, day after day, long-buried secrets and resentments are revealed, until the tension builds to an explosive climax.
Bivins is beloved by Barter audiences for her many roles, including, most recently, the grandmotherly Mattie Rigsbee in this spring’s “Walking Across Egypt” and the delightfully catty Ozella Meeks in “Southern Fried Funeral,” now playing.
Rose has served as Barter’s producing artistic director for 21 years, and his face is familiar to thousands of patrons from his nightly curtain speeches. “The Gin Game” marks his first acting role at Barter and, given his intense schedule, it may be the only time audiences get to see him perform on stage.
“I have had a wonderful time putting this show together with two friends and veterans of this sweet business,” Wolfe said.
Due to its mature themes and language, “The Gin Game” is not recommended for ages 17 and younger. Performances will continue through Aug. 11.
Tickets are $28, $32 and $36.
For tickets or more information, call Barter’s box office at (276) 628-3991 or visit www.bartertheatre.com.