The Gamester, Northlight Theatre. Last fall director Michael Halberstam whipped up a frenzy in Glencoe with a production of a long-forgotten 17th-century Spanish comedy, Spite for Spite. Armed with a dazzling script and his stellar Writers’ Theatre cast, he romped with abandon–perhaps because he was producing the play in the back room of a bookstore. Now the upscale Northlight Theatre has invited him to take on another obscure 17th-century comedy, Jean-Francois Regnard’s sex farce The Gamester, and it seems the demands of theatrical legitimacy have drained much of the fun right out of him.

Then again, he may have been drained by the script. In Regnard’s formulaic comedy, a debauched bachelor tries desperately to kick his gambling habit in order to win the love of the pretty but featureless Angelique. And adapter Freyda Thomas seems so flummoxed by Regnard’s alexandrine couplets that she often sacrifices theatricality for the sake of a rhyme.

Luckily Halberstam has assembled another great cast–among them Bill McGough and Scott Parkinson–who brighten the evening with loads of panache. As the sex-crazed Madame Security, Linda Kimbrough is particularly killing when she provides a gleeful guided tour of her character’s voracious libido. But by and large the company seem more intent on making a well-behaved, legitimate-looking play than on having a good time. And without some giddy volatility, this is a consistently amusing but rarely transcendent evening.

–Justin Hayford