Looking back at “The Gambler” by Dostoyevski, as adapted for the stage by Glyn Maxwell, one can’t help but relish in the amount of humor one finds in this rendition that is taking place at an aptly named town Roulettenburg. The production company are none other than New York’s own Phoenix Theater Ensemble and directed by Karen Lordi-Kirkham.
At the play’s onset, the Alexei Ivanovich and Polina Alexandrovna kick off with their antics and exploit the relationship where the former is the latter’s subservient lapdog, while he fails to give adequate tutelage to the indebted General’s daughters. But Paulina, his eldest, uses Alexei’s presence in the estate for her own entertainment, which is played well across a backdrop of tension and family intrigue.
While everyone is waiting for old grandma to leave this world, the General and his beloved are caught in a loveless frolicking which is solely based on interest – that recounted in the old woman’s will.
But then – behold – none other but Granma comes down in Roulettenburg, like a thunder from a clear sky, with no other intention but gambling away her possessions. While there are laughs and giggles here and there the stage seems to be less alight then when the play takes a turn for the more troublesome crevices of the psyche.
Dostoyevski’s The Gambler bears the endless potential to be adapted for the stage and few production companies can do it right. The problem with staging is that The Gambler has dark and bright elements which are utterly visible and invisible at the same time. The mastery of both the writer and director is proven when they manage to juggle the subtleties in ways that are communicable to the audience. If these do not come across the play will not be a success.
Let’s not forget that Dostoyevsky himself was inspired to write The Gambler precisely because of this roulette addiction. He is one of the most complex minds the literary world has ever know, yet he manages to communicate himself succinctly and masterfully in a manner that has deemed him a literary classic since his books were made known beyond Russia.
It is for this reason only that staging The Gambler must be either done in an immaculate way or it shouldn’t be done at all. Why you might ask? Because there are many plays that can produce an exciting theater-going experience to the audiences that are not as complex to stage. But the challenge is out there and many playwrights want to go head on against the wall.
But talking about Dostoyevski’s character, he is no less or no more addicted to gambling as any person today, save for those who are in a condition to sell everything to consummate their habit once and for all, if that were possible. Thankfully, illegal gambling is out of reach for so many people who can pursue this form of entertainment in a healthy and sustainable way. There are many digital slots sites that can be accessed from home or from mobile just for entertainment purposes.