I wish Restoration comedies were more popular. To me, the plays reflect the times – lush and over the top, biting and mocking, masking deeper themes of social conflict, change and well, restoration. After decades of civil war and then Cromwell, the English monarchy – and the theater – was back with a vengeance. I can imagine that Charles II was just happy to be King, happy to enjoy life; no worries beyond that. Satire, discovery, intrigue, affairs, everything was fair game.
Our theater companions noted that our play, The Gaming Table, with like candy – easy to enjoy, but not much there. I only agree with part of that assessment. Enjoyable, yes. But underneath the froth, there’s social commentary, played for laughs, of course.
The play was a fun night at the theater, with as many or as few layers as one seeks:
- Great costumes – I, for one, love seeing men wearing outrageous wigs of hair, brocaded jackets and hose. Or in this case, woolen knee highs.
- Evocative names – I wonder what type of character Lord Worthy is? Or what about Lady Reveller or Ensign Lovely? Sometimes the audience needs a cue as to how we should feel about the characters …
- Social intrigue – The observations about society, class and relationships are about 100 years ahead of Jane Austen. Everyone is scheming about money and marriage (or sex). Or in this case, women trying to maintain their freedom and not marrying.
- Lifestyle of excess – The main characters gamble all night, sleep all day, fritter away their money and act in other ways not entirely appropriate. Supposedly they change their ways at the end, but why would they, when it looks so fun!
I found the themes of The Gaming Table quite contemporary. There is Mrs. Sago who is determined to live and spend beyond her means and emulate people of “quality.” The people of quality, of course, are happy to mock her and take her money, but they look down on her social climbing. And there’s Lady Lucy who’s concerned about the moral decay of society that gaming brings. Don’t we see this story played out all around us?
I also liked the harangue by Richard, Lady Reveller’s uncle, who demands that both she and his daughter marry and behave like proper ladies, never mind what they their obsessions – gaming for the one and natural philosophy by the other. This, of course, is a twist on the contemporary philosophy that marriage civilizes men and anchors them in society. Funny that the play’s view is the opposite. It’s the women who are frivolous (except for Lucy) and the men who try to convince them to give up their rakish ways.
But never fear, all ends well: everyone ends up with a happy match, and we are all warned of the dangers of gaming while being treated to a good laugh.
Here’s what else I enjoyed about the experience: the Folger Theater itself. It’s a small space, and I can see how sitting in the mezzanine section can cause a permanent crick in the neck, but it’s cozy and close to the action.
I also like that during the intermission, you can walk through the exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library. In this case, an exhibit on women writers from 1500-1700, fitting since our playwright, Susanna Centlivre, was a woman.
And there was a small side exhibit on basset, the game featured in the play. So you can enrich your mind, while enjoying good laughs at the theater.