AISLE SAY San Francisco


By Freyda Thomas
Based on "Le Joueur" by Jean-François Regnard
Directed by Ron Lagomarsino
Presented by American Conservatory Theater
At the Geary Theater
415 Geary St. at Mason, San Francisco / (415) 749-2228

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Gambling can be a serious addiction, but it gets a mostly light-hearted treatment in "The Gamester," Freyda Thomas' 2001 take on a 1696 French play, "Le Joueur" by Jean-François Regnard. The treatment sometimes borders on the hilarious in the American Conservatory Theater production directed by Ron Lagomarsino.

ACT has assembled a group of gifted comic actors to relate the story of Valère (Lorenzo Pisoni), a Parisian aristocrat who has been reduced to abject poverty because of his gambling addiction. His only source of income is Madame Sécurité (Joan Mankin), a lascivious, older rich widow who's willing to pay him for a romp in the sack. She also serves as narrator for the play. A loyal but much-put-upon servant, Hector (Gregory Wallace) helps to keep Valère's creditors at bay. Valère's one hope of salvation is the young, beautiful and rich Angélique (Margot White), who loves him as much as he loves her. However, the only way he can hope to win her hand is to quit gambling. If he doesn't, he loses her, and his father, Thomas (Steve Irish) will disown him.

In the meantime, Madame Argante (René Augesen), Angélique's widowed older sister, also has designs on Valère, while the foppish Marquis de Fauxpas (Anthony Fusco) loves her but becomes a stuttering fool in her presence. Another complication is that Valère's rich but doddering, fat and old uncle, Dorante (Ron Campbell), wants to marry Angélique. Plots and counterplots erupt as Valère vows to quit gambling, but then disguises himself for one last try. All apparently turns out well in the end with the right couples together -- even Angelique's guardian, Madame Préférée (Stacy Ross), and Madame Argante's servant, Betty (Lianne Marie Dobbs) wind up with someone -- but Angélique wisely hedges her bets where Valère is concerned.

The production is a sheer visual and aural delight with Beaver Bauer's extravagantly colorful costumes, Kate Edmunds' set with its playing card motifs, Nancy Schertler's lighting, Garth Hemphill's sound and composer Peter Maleitzke's music. Added to the designers' talents are the masterful comic performances and Lagomarsino's skillful direction. The action is filled with pratfalls and amusing stage business, but Lagomarsino and the terrific ensemble cast never allow anything to get out of hand. Moreover, no matter how small the role, every actor creates a memorable character. "The Gamester" is a real winner.

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