Well, hello blog-friends! It’s the other Emily T. here, Emily Townley. I am very happily deep in rehearsals, beginning Week Three, with Emily Trask and the rest of the wonderful cast of The Gaming Table.
A Quick Rundown of “Alpiew”
I play one of the two main servants represented on stage, Mrs. Alpiew, lady’s maid, close companion, and Gal Friday to the very lovely Lady Reveller, played by the very lovely Julie Jesneck. (The other servant in the show is Buckle, played by Ashley Ivey. Poor, comical, put-upon Buckle! We, as a cast, have decided that the actual title of this play should be The Gaming Table, or the Tragedy of Buckle… but more on that later! ) The “Mrs.” in front of my name is a bit confusing. My character is most definitely unmarried and happy to stay that way! But “Mrs.” was a common address for a female servant in the 18th century, and in this case might also be a small way of paying respect. Lady’s Maid, Cook, and Housekeeper were the three upper echelon positions in the hierarchy of female servants in a typical household. And in The Gaming Table my close relationship with my Mistress, Lady Reveller, positions me as a sort of gate-keeper for potential paramours, who tip me handsomely for access to my Lady.( A tip then was referred to as a “vail” and it was estimated that a well-positioned and valuable servant could double her yearly income with vails.)
The Down and Dirty About This Play
ACT I. (Four in the morning)
Porter: How long have you lived with your Lady?
Footman: A Month – too long by thirty Days. If this be her way of living, I shall be dead before the Year’s out; she Games all Night, and Sleeps all Day.
Which brings me to the basic thrust of The Gaming Table—MONEY! And, of course, sex! Money and sex are the primary threads running through all Restoration comedies, plays that celebrate materialism and sexual license as a reaction against Puritanism after Oliver Cromwell’s interregnum in the late 17th century. (H. L. Mencken said that “Puritanism is the haunting fear that somewhere, somehow, someone is enjoying himself.”) Restoration works show society’s concerted drive towards what had been denied before: pleasure and profit.
And, boy, is this a play a perfect example of its type! EVERY character in this play is driven by need for one of those two things, sex or money. Sir Plainman wishes to secure a wealthy match for his daughter to ensure his place in society, Lady Reveller games constantly at the Basset table (see Emily Trask’s recent blog entry!) she’s created in Plainman’s house to alleviate her boredom and supply herself with an adrenaline rush, Mrs. Sago addictively gambles away her husband’s fortune, etc. Not only was gaming in the early 18th century—a period in England’s history when the passion for gaming was at its greatest height—an addiction of avarice and idleness, but conspicuous expenditure became something of a necessary cultural spectacle. Social rank was generally linked to one’s personal wealth, and the ability to publicly gamble away a fortune secured the gambler’s social status.
Really, not much has changed! Only now, gambling is not a way to secure status but a recognized addiction similar to chemical addiction. It has been seen that, compared to “normal” gamblers, some pathological gamblers have lower levels of the chemical norepinephrine in their brain. Norepinephrine is secreted under stress, arousal, or thrill, so pathological gamblers gamble to make up for their chemical deficiency. And according to Hans Breiter, MD, co-director of the Motivation and Emotion Neuroscience Centre at the Massachusetts General Hospital, “Monetary reward in a gambling-like experiment produces brain activation very similar to that observed in a cocaine addict receiving an infusion of cocaine.”
Buckle: I- in love! No, the Devil take me if ever I shall be infected with that Madness.
And sex, the other great addiction in this play! The characters not obsessed by play and money are obsessed by sex instead! Lord Worthy pines for Lady Reveller, who delights in torturing him. Valeria and Ensign Lovely are enthralled with each other, and Lady Lucy and Sir James Courtly continually spar. All these lovers compulsively chase each other like squirrels chasing each other around a tree! While modern experts disagree about whether sex addiction is a form of chemical addiction analogous to a drug or alcohol addiction or whether it’s a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, anyone who has ever experienced extreme heartbreak or extreme passion can testify to the obsessive, all-consuming nature of either.
I thought maybe I’d dig up some interesting dirt on this group of artists and get them to talk a little about their personal addictions and perhaps post the findings (anonymously, of course!). Alas, I gotta say, we’re a pretty tame group. I, myself, have a teensy-weensy blackjack problem (I’ve been known to sit at a blackjack table in Vegas for 6 hours straight—don’t tell anyone!) and Eleanor Holdridge, our director, has a fondness for poker. But the answers I got to the question “What’s your modern addiction?” went something like this – Cold Case files on TV (the gorier the better), mac ‘n’ cheese, personal electronics, turtle figurines (Darius Pierce, “Mr. Sago”—there, I said it!), Diet Coke, buying and reading comic books, Alabama football… and… ”Gosh, I dunno. I’m really just addicted to work.” (Julie Jesneck, could you be more boring??) ; )
So, it seems that the characters in The Gaming Table have a lot more difficulty controlling their impulses than the actors playing them!
The Lowdown on Me
I was born in Southampton, UK but have spent most of my life in the Washington, DC area. (It breaks my heart to say this, but “Go, Skins!”) I received my BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and, aside from a brief 7-year out-of-town absence, have been lucky enough to work pretty steadily in this amazing theatre community for the last 20 years. I’m a very proud Company Member at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. In addition to a number of plays for Woolly Mammoth and a previous appearance here at the Folger, I’ve also been seen in performances at the Kennedy Center, Round House Theatre, MetroStage, Rep Stage, Everyman Theatre, and The Studio Theatre. I lead a pretty quiet life (cross stitch, crossword puzzles, and playing classical music are hobbies), and aside from the afore-mentioned blackjack problem, I also enjoy a very bad game of golf occasionally, a pretty good game of pool, and a nice glass of scotch. I’m thrilled to be working with this warm, generous. and über-talented group of Gaming Table folks!