February 25, 2008

Lively, scandalous farce at Racine Theatre Guild

The Racine Theatre Guild is presenting The Gamester, a riotous new comedy filled with romance, disguises, secret alliances, scandalous situations and silliness. Playwright Freyda Thomas took a Moliere-ish French farce and twisted it for modern American audiences. There isn't a dull moment on the RTG stage, 2519 Northwestern Ave., between now and March 16.

Did I mention it's all in verse? And the music is a hoot. And it's not suitable for kids? And the gowns put Oscar night to shame.

Set in Paris at the turn of the 18th Century, The Gamester has wonderfully outrageous characters weaving in and out, resulting in hilarious entanglements. The central character is Jean Valere (Ryan Nelson), a handsome young man who cannot stay out of the casinos. He must choose between his two passions: gambling and the beautiful Angelique (Veronica Wudi). She insists he abandon his wild lifestyle. (Women haven't changed much in the past 300 years.)

His father (Brian Deal) has threatened to disinherit him if he doesn’t mend his ways. But Valere has racked up so much debt, he can’t quit. Loyal servant Hector (Tom Spraker) does his best to keep the wolves from the door. An insatiable (!) older woman, Madame Securite (Dawn Van Ess), is happy to give Valere money, in exchange for sexual favors. Likewise, the bitter widow Madame Argante (Nicole Gorski), Angelique’s sister, has a love and a fortune she’d like to share with Valere.

Angelique, too, is pursued by others, most persistently by Valere’s fat, old, bald uncle, Dorante (Joseph Vignierei). Angelique’s companion, the sensible and uptight Madame Preferee (Chris Heilgeist), keeps a close watch over her charge. Foppish Marquis De Fauxpas (Bob Benson) wants to express his love for Mme. Argante, but becomes a stammering idiot in her presence. Mme. Argante’s maid, sweet Betty (Angela Apmann), has a personality quite opposite her shrewish employer. A Croupier (Jonathan Martinez) sets the play in motion, operating the wheel of fortune, and all’s well in the end.

The production is a sensory delight, lush with period costumes, elaborate masks, elegant wigs, a stylish set, classical music and clever dialogue. Written in verse, the language should not deter anyone: it is easy for contemporary audiences to follow and heightens the comedy.

Doug Instenes directed; Sarah L. Hunt-Frank designed the set, combining French high style of the time with the look of a gambling hall; Sharon Johnson serves as production stage manager.

Sponsored by Sharon’s Cleaning Service, performances of The Gamester run weekends from through March 16. Show times are 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 1:30 p.m. on Sundays, with additional shows at 7 p.m. on March 2 and 9, and at 4 p.m. on March 15.

Tickets cost $16 for the 8 p.m. shows and $14 for all others. Discounts are available for seniors, season subscribers, groups and students; the play is not recommended for young children. Box office hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and one hour prior to each curtain time. On performance Saturdays, the box office opens at 2 p.m. For reservations, call 262-633-4218. To learn more, visit the Racine Theatre Guild's website.

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