They joke that they're "retired," but every time Chicago's first couple of theater thinks they've gotten out, they get pulled back in.
So it goes with Paula Scrofano and John Reeger, who open June 22 in Drury Lane Theatre's "The Gin Game." Over the past 46 years (roughly the length of their own marriage), the pair has been starring on area stages — including in close to 50 productions that cast the husband and wife together.
With "The Gin Game," the power-couple tackles an intense two-hander about a man and a woman grappling with their twilight years. Set in a retirement home, D.L. Coburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama unfolds over a series of gin games. As Weller (Reeger) and Fonsia (Scrofano) play cards, they're forced to contend with issues of mortality, loneliness and regrets over wrongs that it is far too late to rectify.
The deceptively unassuming drama is the rarest of theatrical beasts: A drama that stars two characters over the age of 60 who are richly complex and at the center of the story.
I didn't mind moving on to 'mother' roles," says Scrofano, "but when I got to 'grandmother role' age, the roles mostly got to be sight gags. You come in in a funny hat. You waddle. That got old for me pretty quickly. I've had a couple of great parts over the past few years," she adds, "but on the whole, it wasn't so hard for me to walk away from theater because I felt like I wasn't really walking away from anything."
"There aren't a lot of roles for seniors," concurs Reeger. "And a lot of them are just cameos. As intimidating as 'The Gin Game' was initially, I'm loving the challenge of it. These are rich characters, really fleshed out."
Weller and Fonsia don't waddle, wear funny hats or engage in wacky antics. They are nobody's cameo. Each comes with a formidable backstory — a lifetime of events that informs their present. Weller initially seems brusque, egotistical, bitter and thoroughly misanthropic. Fonsia seems gentler, more vulnerable and far more easy-going.
As the couple duels through a series of gin games, Coburn reveals two people of seemingly bottomless depths.
"You look at these two and you're like 'please let that not be me when I get older,'" says Scrofano "In Fonsia's case, she let her resentment and anger brew and fester for years. For a lifetime. She never moved on. She's in the last years of her life, and it's still just sitting there in her lap."
"It's partly about how we are our own worst enemies," says Reeger. "About how we can get in our own way. Weller keeps saying over and over that he just had bad luck, that he didn't get the breaks other people got. But this isn't about luck. It's about living with the consequences of your choices."
"I think there won't be anyone in the audience who doesn't know someone like Fonsia or Weller," says Scrofano. "I see this play as a great look into the human condition — and a cautionary tale. We could all be where these two are if we don't take charge of our lives, take responsibility and if we don't forgive."
When: June 22–Aug. 13
Where: Drury Lane, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace
Contact: 630-530-0111; www.Drurylanetheatre.com