All bets are on at the Folger Theatre’s production of the 1705 play â€œThe Gaming Table.â€ This expertly acted, immaculately costumed and inventively staged truffle romps through gambles of romance, wine and cards among four couples.
Originally titled â€œThe Basset Table,â€ by Susanna Centlivre, the couples revolve in misshapen orbits around and through the home of appropriately named Lady Reveller. Tolerate the weak plot, which might have been hastened by director Eleanor Holdridge. Ignore the uncertain moral. Instead, enjoy the frippery. Here’s a frolic where we hear, for example, that one lady simply adores â€œBritish sea men.â€ Costume designer Jessica Ford leaves no doubt we’re in period. Enormous gowns and even larger wigs alone justify the experience.
A strong cast throughout, Darius Pierce as the much-abused Mr. Sago provides the most fun. His wife suffers the gambling addition most acutely, but his slavish efforts to win her affection renders him almost hopeless when Tonya Beckman Ross’s Mrs. Sago chortles her birdlike endearments to him. Toss announces her liberation throughout with infectious energy.
As Lady Reveller, Julie Jesneck leaves little doubt about her trajectory of self-will, exploiting the house of her uncle with unabashed abandon. Oddly, while most actors bring some British accent to their parts, Michael Willis as the suffering Uncle Sir Richard Plainman, comes straight from middle-America. Lord Worthy, played handsomely suave by Marcus Kyd, provides the male foil for these strong women. He later directs the contrivances among his abused male peers in the second half that returns the galaxy to some sort of order. Kyd announces his allure with a slow, affected stroke on his 18-inch wig along and a measured, winning voice. Exactly why the playwright calls this character â€œworthyâ€ when he mainly designs to seduce every woman in the room serves as only one example of the uncertain direction of Centlivre’s moral point. That Centlivre’s moral compass points unsteadily is symbolized by set designer Marion Williams, who inverts several staircases. â€œWho built this place?â€ one character wonders.
Gaming and infidelity largely pass as humor, not a subject for reproach. Despite the relative novelty of the playwright’s gender, inequality also wins little attention. The women bring strong character, and Mrs. Sago certainly masters her husband’s reluctant purse. But she’s salvaged from gambling by the end. Those looking for the roots of contemporary feminism may find the firmest purchase with the implicit countenance of affairs, as it is Lord Worthy himself who has cuckolded Mrs. Sago.
Such anomalies persist today, of course. The Super bowl broadcaster may be fined for a one second display of an offending finger by a half time entertainer, yet cable channels nearby display countless hours of dubious body functions by girls from the Jersey Shore. Oh well.