As a society, we're fairly open about our addictions to some things: smoking, alcohol, chocolate, sex. But unless you've been close to an insatiable high roller, you're probably less tuned in to the gambling world. Most folks keep it under control -- an annual trip to Vegas, a weekend jaunt up to Reno. But things can get hinky when your honey declares every night poker night, or starts ransacking the rainy-day stash stored beneath the mattress. And when someone comes by to collect a gambling debt in the form of your firstborn, you know the jig is up. Intrigued by the effect of roulette on relationships, writer Freyda Thomas adapted Jean-François Regnard's play Le Joueur into The Gamester, a new comedy about a brazen bet-layer whose lady puts the squeeze on him to change his evil ways.
Valère, a compulsive gambler whose father is on his case about mounting debts and whose older mistress can't keep her claws off him in or out of the bedroom, decides he wants to marry the lovely and wealthy Angélique. But Angélique's not having any of it till he proves he can lay off the dice. Caught between his desire for love and his lust for the win, Valère's got to make a call that's based on more than chance. Set in 17th-century Paris, The Gamester is written entirely in rhyming verse and is directed by Ron Lagomarsino. This production stars ACT company members René Augesen and Gregory Wallace, as well as two Pickle Family Circus alumni, Joan Mankin and Lorenzo Pisoni. The high-stakes comedy opens Thursday at 8 p.m. (and continues through Feb. 6) at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary (at Mason), S.F. Tickets are $11-68; call 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.
-- Karen Macklin
Built Like Alaska enjoys one of those nicely apt band names, because its music bears a marked resemblance to our northernmost state: It's spacious, majestic, and chilly. Big, buzzing guitars, snappy drums, and weird and beautiful keyboard noises that appear and disappear come together as vocalist Neil Jackson whines tunefully about unhappy homes and the plight of organ donors. The group sounds like Beulah, Grandaddy, and Olivia Tremor Control, but mostly it sounds damn good, with its tricky little key changes and catchy melodies. Loquat and Audio Out Send open BLA's release party for the new album Autumnland at 9 p.m. at the Independent, 628 Divisadero (at Hayes), S.F. Admission is $8-10; call 771-1421 or visit www.independentsf.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
We'll Have a Blue Birthday
We have so many performers in this town, yet so few Elvis impersonators. Is it any surprise that for the "Elvis Turns 70 Birthday Bash," the Elvis is imported? Luckily, said singer is one of the very best, endorsed by none other than our local authority on crooning, pompadours, and pleasing the ladies, Chris Isaak. Chance Tinder is his name, and being Elvis is his game; tonight, he celebrates the King's birthday in song, dance, and karate kicks, fronting the Bud E. Luv Band. The Unauthorized Rolling Stones open at 8 p.m. at Bimbo's 365 Club, 1025 Columbus (at Chestnut), S.F. Admission is $18-20; call 474-0365 or visit www.bimbos365club.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
We thought at first that it must be a joke. A guy calling himself the "World's Greatest Hypnotist"? But performer Dave Hill is the real McCoy, at least in his own mind -- and with hypnotism, that's where it counts. "The Comedy Hypnosis Show" involves Hill calling volunteers from the audience and compelling them to humiliate themselves for your entertainment by doing stuff like dancing, crying like a baby, or (a specialty of Hill's) eating an ice cream cone without chewing. Keep your eyes open at 8 p.m. (and every Friday through Jan. 28) at Club Excelsior, 4704 Mission (at Persia), S.F. Admission is free; call (510) 785-8152.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser