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Here and Now, CBC, February 1, 2006
We'll call it "Russian Redux". The new play The Gambler takes its inspiration from the classic writer Dostoevsky, and our theatre critic Lynn Slotkin was inspired to gamble on this show. She joins me now. Lynn, please if you would, tell us about The Gambler.
Ah. The Gambler is a bittersweet production now at Artword. Bitter, because this is the last production at this quirky theatre before it's torn down to make way for condos. Sweet, because the adaptation by Ron Weihs and the resulting production are so good.
Mr. Weihs has combined his adaptation of the classic novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky with the true backstory of how Dostoevsky came to write it.
He writes about a husband and wife who are in debt because of their excessive gambling. Even their children's tutor gambles. And the hope is that their aged grandmother will soon die and leave them all her money. Eventually, even the grandmother becomes addicted to gambling.
Dostoevsky was no stranger to gambling himself. He had assumed his brother's debts and had to quickly find a way of getting money. He promised his publisher a novel in short order, and The Gambler was it. Ron Weihs has stripped down the novel without sacrificing any of the gripping aspects of it, or diluting the colourful characters. He's captured the excessive allure of gambling by writing tight scenes, which director Molly Thom has seamlessly brought to life.
There is a consistent build to what makes a character wager, culminating in a gripping scene in Act II in which a character is desperate to leave the gambling table, but still can't stop betting. It leaves you gasping for air - in a good way. At times, the storytelling goes off the rails, and some scenes are over-directed. But these are quibbles. David Ferry, as both Dostoevsky and the gambling tutor, gives a fine performance of a charming man obsessed by gambling, who with every defeat gets up to make another bet. Jennifer Phipps plays the grandmother as both dottery but very present. This is a compelling performance.
Now, as you know, doing theatre is always a gamble. But seeing The Gambler at Artword is a good bet, and I recommend you go to it.
Thank you, Lynn, Here and Now's drama critic. Lynn Slotkin. She, of course, publishes a theatre newsletter. It's called The Slotkin Letter.
The Gambler opens tonight at the Artword, runs through the 19th of February, when, as Lynn mentioned, the Artword will be smashed down by a giant wrecking ball, and turned into condominiums.