The Gaming Table (the final event of Culture Week)

February 25, 2012 at 9:13 pm (Drama, Local interest (Baltimore-Washington))

In a previous post, I alluded to a recent week in which I attended a Bach concert, two operas (broadcast in HD), and a play. I have yet to write about one of the operas or the play. Although I saw the play last, I’m going to write about it now, since it’s in the midst of its run at the Folger Theatre and is  scheduled to close on Sunday March 4, one week from tomorrow.

  Written by Susanna Centlivre in the tradition of the Restoration comedy, The Gaming Table is a frothy confection about a woman who runs a gambling parlor out of her own home. The aptly named Lady Reveller just wants to have fun, and she desires the same for her friends and fellow gamblers. (The Gaming Table was originally titled The Basset Table, Basset being the name of the card game around which the play’s action revolves. Click here to learn more about Basset.)

The Gaming Table features the fiendishly convoluted plot twists that usually characterize British comedy of the late 1600s and early 1700s. I for one never worry over much if I lose the thread. Usually the players are having such a mad cap good time of it that I find myself delighted and amused, even if I’m wondering, Now who exactly is she…?

So: Who exactly is Susanna Centlivre? (Lovely name, that: Susanna hundred pounds – or Susanna hundred books!) Here’s the opening of the Folger’s backgrounder:

Susanna Centlivre (1669?-1723) was the most popular female comedic playwright of the 18th century. Although not hailed by the critics of her day, a time when women writers were an unsettling novelty, she enjoyed a certain celebrity. Accounts of Centlivre’s early years are an intriguing array of rumors and hearsay, but once in London she became a well-known dramatist and respectable wife of a royal cook. A prolific author, she wrote at least 16 plays, in addition to many poems and several collections of humorous letters.

Susanna Centlivre

So, where has this gifted and prolific poet and playwright been all my life? Buried in obscurity, alas, like so many other artists of her sex. All praise is due, therefore, to the creative team at the Folger for gifting us with this felicitous (and lavishly mounted) production. In a recent piece in the Washington Post,  the Folger’s artistic producer Janet Alexander Griffin said of the works of Susanna Centlivre: “Bringing her back is like a new discovery.”

Just so.

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