Broadway World Los Angeles: THE GAMESTER is a “comic romantic romp”

The setting is Paris in the 18th Century with THE GAMESTER performed in rhymed couplets. But don’t let the timeframe, language or fabulous costumes fool you. This story of true love, schemes, casual lusts, machinations, treachery and too many casinos feels as modern as today. After all, haven’t we created whole cities and casinos galore aimed to pull in gamblers night and day? And don’t we have Gamblers Anonymous for those who simply cannot stay away?

Valère (the dashing Rafael Cansino) is young, handsome and charming, so much so he could have any woman he desired. His true love, however, is the young, beautiful Angélique (McKenzie Eckels), who loves him in return. But Valère has a very fickle mistress: Lady Luck. And unfortunately, Valère is a compulsive gambler, playing and losing with disturbing regularity at the local casino. Both Cansino and Eckels are recent graduates of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Hollywood, with both making their professional debut at Theatre 40. Surrounded by a cast of supporting actors with incredible acting chops, these two just starting out hold their own and shine in all their scenes together as a loving young couple dealing with a third person in their budding relationship; a gambling habit that cannot seem to be broken.

Valère’s wealthy father Thomas (David Hunt Strafford in his best role ever) threatens to cut him off after seeing the rundown hotel room where Valère lives with his manservant Hectór (James Schendel, whose asides to the audience are hysterical). Without a cent to his name, what else is poor Valère to do but offer his “services” to the wealthy widows of Paris in exchange for money?

Well-known woman about town Mme. Securité (scene stealing, whip wielding Elain Rinehart) is quick to take him up of his offer. Cansino and Rinehart are a riot of lust and fearful resignation during their bedroom scene, their lunge and parry movements directed with great skill by Jules Aaron.

Mr. Aaron’s flair and obvious love of this Classic French Farce keeps the action moving at the necessary quick pace throughout the play that makes the humor (and incredible couplet text) easy to understand and the over-the-top characters so interesting you can’t help but be drawn into their love life machinations. With so much going on at all times, he draws focus to important conversations by having the rest of the cast freeze in position, allowing lighting designer Ric Zimmerman to focus the audience’s attention exactly where it needs to be to follow the story.

Costume designer Michele Young has outdone herself with this production, dressing each character in period perfect masterpieces, magnificent masks, fans and character wigs. The multi-scene set designed by Jeff G. Rack transforms quickly into many locations, often with an actor delivering information asides to the audience.

And laugh – yes you certainly will – and often!

When Valère attempts to pledge his love to Angélique, she threatens him with an ultimatum: Stop gambling or lose her forever. She’s bestows him with an expensive token of her love: A small portrait of herself in a jewel-bedecked frame. Will he surrender his most treasured possession for an evening of thrills at the casino table? Unbeknownst to him, Angélique disguises herself as a man and visits the local casino to see if Valère can keep his promise to stay away. Possibly the most entertaining scenes in the show center around their evening of gambling as they move from table to table, with the audience fully aware (through sides) that Angélique has recognized the costumed Valère, testing him as she manages to win every game thanks to his tutelage. Will their love survive?

What makes the situation even harder for him is that Valère is surrounded by people who would love to see him fail: Mme. Argante (Maria Spassoff), Angelique’s older sister, who wants him for herself; her Maid Betty (Ilona Kulinska); the afore-mentioned Mme. Securite, and his Uncle Dorante (Anthony Ferguson), an older, wealthy, would-be suitor for Angelique’s hand. Added into the mix and the lovelorn Mme. Préférée (Susan Damante) and the Marquis de Fauxpaus (Scott Facher, wonderfully clad in white-faced French fop attire) looking for love in all the wrong places.

How can Valere’s and Angelique’s love for each other possibly survive? Will any of these forsaken souls find the match they each desire? I’m not telling – see the show and laugh you way through this comic romantic romp!