(Press photos from THE GAMESTER produced by San Francisco American Conservatory Theater January 6 – February 6, 2005)
Written in 1705, The Gamester was 18th century dramatist Susanna Centlivre’s first commercial success and one of the first plays in a genre now known as “reform comedies.” Gentle satire and physical humor used to teach a social lesson, such works also mirrored Hogarth’s moralistic engravings such as “The Rake’s Progress.”
Centlivre was the author of more than 16 plays and one of the most popular dramatists of her time. In terms of number of performances, her plays enjoyed longer runs than those of Dryden, Congreve, Cibber, and even the celebrated Sheridan. Her critical acclaim rested in breathing new life into stock characters and situations.
The Gamester’s title character, Valere, is mastered by money and chance, an arrangement by which social station could conceivably rise and fall as quickly–and randomly–as the roll of a gamester’s dice. The play focuses on the necessary reclamation of a young nobleman lost in the vice of gambling. Atypical is the comedic portrayal that everyone, heedless of rank, gender, or philosophical outlook, is affected in some manner by Valere’s addiction. Act I curtain opens with Hector, Valere’s valet, slumped in a chair, waking and yawning:
“Bless me! ‘Tis broad daylight; Who the Devil would serve a Gamester!’Tis a cursed life, this that I lead. O, my dear bed how seldom so I visit thee! When shall I be in the fold of thy embrace and snore forth my thanks? I, that could enjoy four-and –twenty hours together am grown a perfect stranger to thy charms. O. ,y precious master! Now, then to one will he come home with an empty pocket and then will he be confoundedly out of humour; Then shan’t I dare ask him for any dinner. Thus am I robbed of the two chiefest pleasures of my life, Eating and Sleeping.”
Valere’s father threatens disinheritance unless he reforms his profligate ways but after causing every other character to commit offenses against social station, manners, or morals, Valere is ultimately reformed by the virtuous Angelica who brings him back within the boundaries of good society by the use of witty repartee and cunning masquerade.
Sir Thomas Valere Father to Valere the Gamester
Dorante Valere’s uncle, also in Love with Angelica
Young Valere A Gentleman much in Love with Angelica
Mr. Lovewell in Love with Lady Wealthy
Marquis of Hazard A supposed French nobleman who woos Lady Wealthy
Hector Valet to Valere
Lady Wealthy A van and coquettish widow, sister to Angelica
Angelica In Love with Valere