‘ The Gamester” is a rollicking period piece, inhabited by colorful characters in elaborate Renaissance costumes, all conversing in verse. The style is that of French classic comedy in the day of Moliere, but the dialogue has a contemporary flavor and sense of humor.
The comedy is presented by the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival, but it’s not by the Bard. “The Gamester” is a hybrid. Contemporary playwright Freyda Thomas wrote it, based on a 17th-century play by French writer Jean- Francois Regnard.
Thomas took the skeleton of the plot — a young man addicted to gambling while his true love and his father despair— and fleshed it out with characters both comic and worth caring about.
This is one of those plays that depend upon insightful direction and excellent acting to avoid becoming corny. Fortunately, in the hands of director Cynthia Totten and a stellar festival cast, the production is entertaining and involving. The bright style and fast pace make it an ideal choice for the festival’s lovely outdoor setting, where the audience, seated on the grass adjacent to the stage, easily gets involved.
The dialogue is clever and often funny. Using rhyming couplets and stair-step lines, the playwright puts her own words into the 18th-century characters’ mouths. It must have been challenging and fun to write. Members of the audience may find themselves playing their own game as they anticipate the next verse, and may be surprised to hear “duke” rhyme with “puke,” or be amused with such comments as “a hungry soul will buckle in the face of a casserole.”
Modern references are sprinkled throughout, such as a gambling hall patron’s prediction: “I wouldn’t be surprised if some day whole cities will be built to play.” The actors skillfully handle the dialogue and seem to be enjoying the style.
Tyler Lopez is excellent as Valere, the passionate gambler who loses money to the point of poverty for himself and his devoted but hungry servant, Hector. Lopez, whose talent has brightened many roles in the area, gives Valere a certain sweetness that makes him sympathetic in spite of his vices, as he finds himself hapless in the face of his dilemma.
Janet Stipicevich plays the most colorful character, the sexually insatiable widow, Madame Securite. Her name suggests her function for Valere: She pays him for regular romps. Stipicevich begins the play as narrator, then drops into the delightfully comic role of the bawdy widow. A highlight is her monologue on the “seven ages of women,” the playwright’s answer to Shakespeare’s “seven ages of man.”
Gregory Gorrindo is likable as the beleaguered servant, Hector, who tries, on an empty stomach, to keep the creditors from the door.
The pretty and virtuous Angelique is played well by Heather MacLeod, who goes out of character to disguise herself as a gambling youth. Erika Appel plays her older sister, a widow who lusts after Valere but is courted by the Marquis de Fauxpas. The Marquis lives up to his name as he appears in “costumes painful to the eye” and stammers and becomes tongue-tied when around her. Randy Pound gets plenty of laughs in the role.
As Valere battles his addiction, Angelique is being courted by Valere’s uncle, whom she finds repellent. He’s played with comic repulsiveness by Mark Brunasco. Christina Fountain is Madame Preferee, who advises Angelique to go for the money and marry him.
David Hance gives the role of Valere’s father some depth as he sympathizes with and agonizes over his son’s problems. The cast is filled out with some interesting and charming ensemble members who play servants, bill collectors and gambling hall patrons.
This is a frothy, funny evening of entertainment in a beautiful setting on balmy North County evenings. Bring a chair or blanket to sit on and a picnic to enjoy. Beverages are available.