Henry IV, Part 1 - feature

The Nevada Conservatory Theatre at UNLV Opens The Gamester October 7

October 3, 2005
Contact: Jennifer Vaughan 702-895-1575

Freyda Thomas' “The Gamester” opens NCT's Main Season on October 7 in the Judy Bayley Theatre. Inspired by a 17 th century French play by Jean-Francois Regnard, Thomas has created wonderfully outrageous characters involved in a variety of plot entanglements.

Set in Paris at the turn-of-the-18 th century, “The Gamester” is a mirror of our own turn-of-the-century America with all its wealth, too little leisure time, too many casinos, too few women with real power, and too many ways of avoiding reality. While the play centers on Valere and his impulsive gambling, all the characters in the play have their own compulsions; sex, obsessive love, money, or food.

Michael Lugering directs “The Gamester” which is set in Las Vegas as part of NCT's participation in the Las Vegas Centennial Celebration. The cast features Stephen Crandall as Valere and Lisa Easley as Angelique, the modest and sensible love of his life. Guest artists include Michael Tylo as Valere's father, Jennifer Williams as Mme. Securitee, and Steve Peterson as Dorante, a character who is madly in love with Angelique. Others in the cast include Brandon Burk, Melanie Ash, Dana Martin, Steve Fehr, Federico Flores and Zonya Johnson.

Joe Varga designs the set, with costumes by Katrina Hertfelder, lighting by Vance McKenzie, and original music by Nick Rissman.

Performances are October 7, 8, 13, 14 and 15 at 8 p.m. with matinees at 2 p.m. on October 9, 15 and 16. Tickets are $25 general admission and $20 for students, seniors military and handicapped, and on sale at the UNLV Performing Arts Center Box Office. Season subscriptions for the five main season productions are available for $95. The subscription entitles subscribers to one show in the season for free. The Box Office is opened Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and may be reached by calling 895-ARTS (2787).

The Nevada Conservatory Theatre at UNLV is distinct and special in the way it features professional actors, designers, and directors working along-side advanced graduate and undergraduate students recruited from around the country.

Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival

The Plot

The Gamester by Freyda Thomas

Based on a play by Jean-Francois Regnard, Freyda Thomas' world blends comic style with classical form for a sharp, pointed critique of a world not far removed from our own. The story revolves around young Valere and beautiful Angelique, who are joyously in love, with one tiny hitch. He must choose between his love for her and his obsessive desire for gambling. She'll have none of it; he can't live without it. A laugh riot!


Oct 07, 8 pm, Judy Bayley Theatre, Nevada Conservatory Theatre at UNLV
Oct 08, 8 pm, Judy Bayley Theatre, Nevada Conservatory Theatre at UNLV
Oct 09, 2 pm, Judy Bayley Theatre, Nevada Conservatory Theatre at UNLV
Oct 13, 8 pm, Judy Bayley Theatre, Nevada Conservatory Theatre at UNLV
Oct 14, 8 pm, Judy Bayley Theatre, Nevada Conservatory Theatre at UNLV
Oct 15, 2 pm, Judy Bayley Theatre, Nevada Conservatory Theatre at UNLV
Oct 16, 2 pm, Judy Bayley Theatre, Nevada Conservatory Theatre at UNLV

Obsessive Characters

October 7, 2005
by Ken White

'The Gamester' puts a contemporary twist on a French farce

If ever there were a group of characters who need a 12-step program of some sort, it's those in Freyda Thomas' play, "The Gamester," a Nevada Conservatory Theatre production opening today at Judy Bayley Theatre on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus.

There's the main character, Valere, who belongs in Gambler's Anonymous. But he's not alone in the cast -- everyone seems to have some sort of obsessive-compulsive disorder, ranging from sex and money to food.

Based on Jean-Francois Regnard's 1696 farce "Le Joueur," the play takes place in Paris, but director Michael Lugering and his creative team of set designer Joe Varga, lighting designer Vance McKenzie and costume designer Katrina Hertfelder have applied a contemporary overlay.

The play centers around Valere (Stephen Crandall), who is in love with Angelique (Lisa Easley).

Angelique wants Valere to give up gambling but he's racked up so much debt he can't quit.

Valere's father, Thomas (Michael Tylo), is rich enough to give him the cash he needs, but he won't until Valere quits gambling.

Complicating the story are Madame Securite (Jennifer Williams), a woman who will have sex with any man no matter what age, and Dorante (Steve Peterson), an old man who spends his time chasing after the much younger Angelique.

In the second act, the scene shifts to a casino, the set of which is decorated with neon, where there are disguises and misunderstandings typical of a French farce.

Obviously, the play has some local interest, and Lugering has played those up. While preparing the production, he contacted the playwright by phone.

"She asked me where I was from and when I told her Las Vegas, she said, 'I knew you'd call.' It really is a new play, based on an old play. The subject matter is contemporary. The costumes are period but the fabrics are contemporary. It's old clothing with a new feel."

Although the plot takes several twists and turns, the way a farce should, and was written in iambic pentameter, Lugering says "The Gamester" is not difficult to follow.

"I don't think the plot is confusing, compared to other comedy plots," Lugering says. "The difficulty for us was striking a balance between the heightened language (of the original play) and contemporary language. The language is really accessible."

Lugering also added music by local musician Nick Rissman that will be played by a quartet. The score contains baroque-sounding compositions that could have come from Regnard's time, but Rissman also has added contemporary music that's baroque sounding, Lugering says.

Tickets are $25 general admission and $20 for students, seniors, military and handicapped.

Performances continue Oct. 13-16.

Sex, lies and gambling embody UNLV Performing Arts Center's newest play, 'The Gamester'

October 11, 2005
by Nicole Musolino
The Rebel Yell

Las Vegas is notoriously known for sex, lies and gambling. UNLV's newest play, "The Gamester," is full of all three. Though we're not in Vegas anymore, we're in 17th century Paris, where this comedy takes place.

"The Gamester," written by Freyda Thomas, is a story about another unfortunate gambler, Valere, whose addiction may cause him everything, including the woman he loves. We're not given a happy ending with the guy getting the girl; instead the audience is left to decide what the future holds for the characters.

The Nevada Conservatory Theatre presents this period piece with well-designed costumes and believable sets, including the inside of a casino that is reminiscent of Vegas' own Paris Hotel and Casino.

The entire play is written in verse. Therefore, all of the actors' lines rhyme. Though writing in rhyme can be extremely difficult, the author doesn't allow it to become distracting to the realness of the characters. For some audience members it may be annoying, however it also becomes a game. The audience is anticipating the next line. If they know the actor just ended his line with "go" then they are waiting for the next line to end in "know" or "so" or "toe" etc.

The play had a mixture of both UNLV students and professional actors portraying very enjoyable characters. One setback was the exaggerated quirks that many of the characters had. Although this is common in a farce, it can take away from how real the character seems. If you have someone exaggerating a limp or a stutter for the sake of a joke, it can cause the character to look fake in the eyes of the audience.

The actors did perform well-timed jokes, even with the added obstacle of the rhymes. Although the audience was, for the most part, laughing at all the jokes, this would not be a play you would want to take your grandmother to see. Not that she wouldn't enjoy it; in fact most of the audience was filled with older men and women who enjoyed the play. Because of the content of the jokes, mainly very sexual, it wouldn't be the most comfortable night with your grandmother sitting next to you.

This is not a play for shy people. In the first act, they even go as far as simulating a sex scene right in the center of the stage on a bed behind a canopy. This is just one of the many sexual moments of the play. (Hey, it's Paris, baby.)

If you can deal with the sex stuff and get past the few exaggerations, you could have an enjoyable play focused around a man deciding between his love for the game and his love for a woman.

"The Gamester" runs through Oct. 16 in the Judy Bayley Theatre. For free student tickets, take your student ID down to the UNLV Performing Arts Center Box Office located in front of the parking garage. Normal business hours are one hour before performances and Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

'Gamester' often as lyrical as it is funny

October 11, 2005
by Anthony Del Valle Las Vegas Review-Journal

If you're a compulsive gambler, or thinking about becoming one, it probably isn't a good idea to see "The Gamester."

Nevada Conservatory Theatre's current production of Freyda Thomas' 2001 farce makes gambling seem a very sexy obsession. One character, old Uncle Dorante (Steve Peterson), has a monologue about the excitement of chance -- while Joe Varga's expert cartoon-casino set dances in lights -- that is so comically inspirational, it could easily drive a sane person from the theater to the tables.

The script, written in iambic pentameter, is loosely based on Jean-Francois Regnard's very Moliere-ish 17th century work "Le Joueur," but don't let the high-tone scare you. Director Michael Lugering's production is as easy to follow and enjoy as an intelligent sitcom.

The plot gives us a pleasure-loving but harmless young man, Valere (Stephen Crandall), who, for inheritance reasons, must choose between his happily wicked life, or Angelique (Lisa Easley), the woman who loves him. Surrounding the couple are a bevy of devious characters, all buffoonishly overdressed (by Katrina Hertfelder), and all plotting in pursuit of money and/or sex, and/or love.

It would be easy for all this frantic activity to dissolve into stupidity, but Lugering keeps a tight rein on the script's reality. We believe in these characters' strong needs, and so, accept their exaggerated behavior.

Crandall's a wonderfully sincere Valere. He communicates the joy of vice, and makes us understand why his character is having such a tough time becoming respectable. Brandon Burk's half-man, half-boy mannerisms make us root for him as Valere's loyal but befuddled servant. Melanie Ash, as Angelique's companion, is an amusing balance of snooty propriety and rottenness.

The three union actors are superb. Local Michael Tylo effortlessly communicates class and restraint as Valere's exasperated father. Long and lanky Peterson, as an old man trying to woo Valere's young fiancee and dressed in variations of green and gold topped by a shock of red hair, suggests "The Munsters' " Al Lewis, not as a bat, but as a fey reptile. And Jennifer Williams has no problem commandeering the enormous sensual appetites of the middle-aged Madame Securitee. She tops her comic performance with a moving monologue about the difficulties in being a woman growing old.

Nick Rissman's original music heightens the play's sense of giddiness.

Lugering occasionally overplays the comedy. There are one or three chase scenes that feel there for their own sake. And sometimes the tie-ins to Las Vegas are made too obvious (that's the sort of thing audiences should pick up on their own).

But "The Gamester" is often as lyrical as it is funny. Lugering almost always knows just how far to go with the material, and as a result he gets at the play's humanity as well its humor.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Bistro

by Steve Bornfield
Las Vegas Weekly

Something familiar, something peculiar, something for everyone—French comedy, tonight

Quoting Messeur Sondheim: "Nothing with kings, nothing with crowns, bring on the lovers, liars and clowns."

Love, lie and clown they do in The Gamester, Nevada Conservatory Theatre's lewd and loony kick-starter of UNLV's mainstage season.

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum with a French accent and Vegas compulsions, The Gamester is a farce so frenetic it makes the Keystone Kops seem as if they stopped off for baguettes at a Parisian bistro. But comedy, whether drawing-room clever or broad satire, is a precision instrument, and for all its ribald, gargantuan gusto, Gamester doesn't spill into undisciplined mugging under Director Michael Lugering's sure, steady hand. Gamester is playwright Freyda Thomas' riff on Jean Francois Regnard's 1696 verse comedy, Le Joueur, satirizing upper-crust French society's obsession with games of chance. On a Vegas stage? Oui! Oui! C'est naturel.

A comedy of human quirks and balls-out buffoonery retaining Regnard's rhyming, rhythmic dialogue, Gamester spins around vice-addled Valére (Stephen Crandall), a compulsive gambler in love with beautiful Angélique (Lisa Easley), who insists her fiancé abandon his gaming addiction—except Valére is so far in arrears he figures (with gambling-addict logic) that more wagering will dig him out of deep debt. Valeré's father, Thomas (splendid Michael Tylo, doing "domineering" as if he invented it) refuses to cover his son's losses until the wayward lad reforms, while exhausted servant Hector (frantic but droll Brandon Burk—think: a young Jack Gilford in Forum) barely keeps Valeré's creditor-wolves at bay.

Around this conundrum revolves a rollicking band of schemers, sex addicts, yearning lovers, doofuses and fops. Hilariously horny Madame Securitée (Jennifer Williams in a go-for-it performance) is a wealthy, widowed old minx whose cash is catnip to reluctant Valére, rendered a rubber-legged shell after surrendering to her sexual exertions in a bed-rocking workout. "Men," she says—i.e., 18- to 80-year-olds who wind up in her frilly britches—"they all look alike in the dark."

Dana Martin is acidly amusing and oozes overripe sensuality as black-clad widow Argante, Angélique's older sister, who also longs for Valére while fleeing the fawning love pleas of smitten Marquis de Fauxpas (flamboyantly funny Steven Fehr), a fey, stuttering suitor whose fashion sense could scare Elton John straight in any century. As Dorante, Valére's blobbish, dotty relic of an uncle who's also pining for Angélique, Steve Peterson initially overplays spastic gestures but comes into funnier focus in Act II—as does his awakened sexual prowess, thanks to Madame Securitée. And Melanie Ash does uptight with tight-assed relish as Angélique's guardian, Madame Préferée, who conspires with Dorante to keep Valére and Angélique apart while bemoaning the lack of a man to give her "field" a good "plowing."

Interlocking and underhanded, the madcap plots collide in Act II, when franc-strapped Valére, after vowing his reformation to Angélique, sneaks into the casino, followed by his sweetie disguised as a man, and winds up in a high-stakes game: he playing her, disguised as a him, so she (as he) can spy on him, who's unaware he's playing against her (who looks like a him). Simple as une, deux, trois.

As Valére, Crandall is a robust comic force, his drunken swaggering, manic self-pity and larcenous plotting never denting his impish likability. As lovely, levelheaded Angélique, the only sanity—and audience surrogate—amid the insanity, Easley is too demure around her daft co-stars throughout Act I. Calmness isn't presence, which is lacking until she goes undercover in Act II and lights the sparks that fire up The Gamester finale.

Lavish period clothes by "costume coordinator" Katrina Hertfelder—lush, satin coats; silky, colorful fabrics; hip-high leather boots; ornately woven shirts; boldly patterned vests—are a sumptuous spectacle. Joe Varga's sets sparkle with depth and detail, especially his opulent casino with winking Vegas touches. Even Nick Rissman's organ-like music mixes courtly themes with snatches of Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?"

Sending his actors sprawling around stage, yet knowing when to play a scene small, tossing off spry sight gags (cleavage-yielding whips and handcuffs!), having his actors address each other and us as co-conspirators, Lugering ties it together with a satirist's sense of farcical fun.

As Messeur Sondheim's Forum musical mood-setter merrily reminds us: "Goodness and badness, manifest madness, this time it all turns out all right. Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight."

Let The Gamester begin.

Rating: 4 stars

Las Vegas Round Up, October 13, 2005

October 13, 2005
by Anthony Del Valle
Las Vegas Round Up, backstage.com

Two excellent shows at academic institutions and one new version of a Strip favorite make this an exciting week for Las Vegas theatre.

Nevada Conservatory Theatre is offering a lusty rendition of Fryda Thomas' 2001 iambic-pentameter play, "The Gamester," based on Jean-Francois Regnard's 17th century farce "Le Joueur."

Its plot, characters, and dialogue have a Moliere feel. Young Valere (Stephen Crandall) has been warned by his father (Michael Tylo) that he will be disinherited if he doesn't stop gambling and carousing. His wealthy finance, Angelique (Lisa Easley), offers him the same ultimatum. But what can he do? His world is full of too many temptations, most found at the casino table.

In addition, slimy Uncle Dorante (Steve Peterson) is trying to discredit Valere so he can win Angelique for herself, while Angelique's companion (Melanie Ash) is equally devious, because she was once rejected by Valere. And the middle-aged Securitee (Jennifer Williams) certainly doesn't want Valere to reform, because then she will not need his money, and she will not receive his... uh, let's just say, his attentions.

There are half-a-dozen more neurotics involved in the plot, all with strong needs, all pretty much getting what they want in the end.

Director Michael Lugering keeps the show moving at breakneck speed, yet he doesn't sacrifice the situation's reality. The cast is top-notch, particularly the magnetic Peterson. The outstanding tech designs create a wonderfully cartoon atmosphere.

Nevada Conservatory Theatre's "The Gamester" plays 8 p.m. Oct. 13-15 and 2 p.m. Oct. 15 and 16 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' Judy Bayley Theatre. Tickets: $20-$25. Info: 702-895-2787


Michael Tylo as Duke of Norfolk in A Man For All Seasons in 2005