The Gambler

Programming / to stage.

I’m not going to make mysteries where there aren’t any – today it’s Fyodor Dostoevsky’s short novel that interests me.

I saw an adaptation of Crime and Punishment on stage: it was…. not bad – you have to be crazy to believe that it is possible to get out of that novel without damage.

The Gambler is not the same song – its format fits on stage without betrayal – its format and context –

So I don’t know what you think of this text at all – for my part, when I read it, instead of having an atrocious fear of gambling, I had only one desire: to enter a casino, to see that almost magical object that is roulette.

We are in this very special world of the casino. Everyone is well dressed – was.
Everybody gets out their ceremonial dress, you don’t laugh out loud in a casino – it’s very badly seen – at least in France.
And you approach the roulette table.
The moment you play…. you will be caught.
In modern casinos, they’ve increased the addictive capacity of this game with tables of statistics: how many times has black come out? how many times has red come out? how many times has zero come out? oh but…. that makes 13 times 27 comes out – it won’t come out anymore.

What Dostoievsky does very, very well is this: the moment you are caught.
The moment when your mind pretends to dominate chance – which is not so random.
The moment when you start redoing statistics and probabilities.
The moment when, even if you are atheists as the French claim they are – you begin to rediscover a completely pagan spirituality, which plays against you most of the time – and very rarely with you.
The moment when you become again, in fact, a human being of very, very ancient times, when in front of you there is the Unknown and you have tried to dominate this Unknown with your words: do you think I am exaggerating? You do not know those who play : The red horse – The black snake / we’ll say snake instead of sizain – the famous words: pass, odd, miss, playing a number as a last resort is like playing The Emperor’s move – as for your methods of probability, they would have less appeal if they had no name: the martingale – but yes, with the word we will win against the primitive god, that’s for sure.

As you lose – or gain – your other god, money, madam, money is so serious and so not serious at the same time – you are good for spending the night there – or for the asylum – and come out of it a little disgusted, barely happy – if you are reasonable. Ruined or having blown up the bank if you are a Slavic romantic – the character of Dostoevsky.

Then the novel also allows for a well-behaved criticism against Western Europeans – yes, yes, they are cold-blooded, dry-hearted, spiritually limited, without honor, without greatness, without folly, without passion. It is he who says that – not me – I only benefit from the fact that I am from ‘nowhere’ – but it is in very bad faith.

I don’t know if Dostoevsky wanted to write a charge against gambling – that’s what they say, it sounds fancy. And yes, then Alexei Ivanovich will end up in a pitiful state – it’s true.
He thinks he’s madly in love – he gives himself a nice excuse – he gambles – he wins: he gives everything to the beautiful one – ah Paulina ….. my heart, my eyes the tears of my soul – who throws him out with a broom on his head (yes, okay, no, I added that – the broom I mean) – he finds himself in Paris, gambling and losing and losing and losing and losing and losing not knowing how to win – and all in the end, when he can finally go and conquer the love of his life, the one for whom he said he was sacrificing his soul – when he finally gets money and the assurance that Paulina loved him, not his potential money – what does he do?
He walks into a casino.
He wants to offer more to her, to his beloved belle he loves so, so much.
He will offer her the world. She loved him ! Not his potential money – she was a kind of shining angel
He will offer her rivers of diamonds and pearls, and the most beautiful diamond will still be her.
Necessarily – he loses.
Did he love her? Absolutely not. She was his Dulcinea of Toboso, his pretext to allow himself to play.

Like all great, great works of literature, The Gambler doesn’t give its solution – look for it, find it if you can, that’s the message.

You’ve probably noticed that Altair doesn’t want to be just a theatre – if Altair becomes just a theatre, it won’t be more or less interesting than any other. Altair is a theatre for players. For gamblers. So of course … obviously… I couldn’t miss that novel – I’m convinced that it’s a much stronger work than a simple warning: beware children, it’s wrong to play, look what will happen to you. Dostoevsky was a relentless gambler – he knew this world, these mirages and temptations so well: yes, it’s a fake world like that of the arts – a world where the imaginary takes precedence over the real – but where the real always wins in the end. On a stage…. it’s less simple and more exciting as a result – I feel like I’m not clear at all. Well… too bad.

Until I come to my senses, The Gambler is a text you have to have seen – it won’t make you want to play – it might give you a taste for the game – it’ll probably give you a bit of a chill – and it will have given you a few hours of pure spectator pleasure.

Oh and then… of course – not that it’s a fascinating subject that easily fills a theatre. But still: it’s a fascinating subject that makes it possible to easily fill a theatre hall.

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