Profanity is so pervasive in modern entertainment that it really doesn’t register any more, other than often invoking tedium. It makes you wonder how Humphrey Bogart and John Wayne were taken seriously without ever saying “motherfucker.”
Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones are currently headlining a revival of The Gin Game. The drama first appeared on Broadway in 1977 with Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn in the lead roles, directed by Mike Nichols. It ran for 517 performances.
Fonsia Dorsey (Tyson) and Weller Martin (Jones) are elderly residents in a dilapidated home for seniors. Fonsia is prim and proper, although near the end of the play we learn she is not really so. Weller, short-tempered, is full of bluster. At his prodding, they play gin rummy. To Weller’s great consternation, Fonsia, a novice, wins every hand.
Weller’s frustrations result in angry “Goddamn! ” and “Jesus!” or “Good God, Fonsia!” His profanity annoys Fonsia who finally responds to it, “Weller, I wish you wouldn’t take the Lord’s name so much.”
The dialog accompanying the hands of gin illuminates the characters, their histories and personalities. So much so that when Jones’s character erupts with “… fucking …!” the audience lets out a collective gasp.
And that’s how you make profanity have an effect.
The Gin Game ends its limited run in mid-January.