Restoration comedy or a leg of lamb jammed up my nose? Tough choice.
With that personal disclosure out of the way, in spite of my bias, Everyman’s production of The Beaux’ Stratagem is feathery, frolicsome amusement, as refreshing as an ice cream soda mit schlag on a humid June afternoon.
Director Vincent M. Lancisi gooses up the delight quotient with art gallery-worthy sets and costumes and teases laugh-a-minute performances out of the 15-member cast in this 18th century George Farquhar play that first got an update by Thornton Wilder in the 1930s.
Mr. Wilder never completed the revision and around 2006, the Wilder estate contacted Washington playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Crazy for You) to finish the refurbished adaptation.
Granted, it is still Restoration Comedy, one of my least favorite forms of theater other than French farce. Buxom serving staff, powdered wigs, bloomers and foppish gentlemen fanning themselves with linen handkerchiefs usually have me hurtling toward the nearest Sarah Kane festival.
Flitting fan-phobic that I am, I found myself laughing and languishing in the unending silliness of The Beaux’ Stratagem’s plot and the behavior of the stock characters. The beaux of the title are Jack Archer (Danny Gavigan) and Tom Aimwell (Yaegel T. Welch), two handsome, roguish gentlemen who have whooped it up too extravagantly in London and now are in the Lichfield countryside on the prowl for a rich heiress for Tom to wed. Jack pretends to be Tom’s footman to add to the revelry.
Jack and Tom arrive in disguise at the town’s inn—presided over by Boniface (Bruce Randolph Nelson, sporting a keg-like beer belly that betrays his love of ale) and his savvy young daughter Cherry (Dorea Schmidt)—during a time when a band of highwaymen have been robbing the ladies of their money and jewels. Boniface serves not only the local brew, but also abets the head highwayman Gloss (Stephen Patrick Martin) by safekeeping his booty.
Gloss, who also moonlights as a parson, mistakes Jack for a fellow thief and lets him in on his plot to rob the county’s wealthiest estate, owned by Lady Bountiful (Kathryn Kelley), an enlightenment believer in science and logic who “cures”—and mostly kills—her patients with odd potions and poultices. Gloss’s scheme proves to be a problem for Jack on more than the moral level, since Tom has fallen madly in love with Lady Bountiful’s daughter Dorinda (Katie O. Solomon) after seeing her in church and Jack has tumbled head over boots for her sister-in-law, Kate (Megan Anderson), who is unhappily married to the perpetually pickled Sullen (Clinton Brandhagen).
These are just two pairings in a series of love-in-first-sights that are signaled by the witty device of flashing lights and a musical flourish. There are all sorts of entertaining touches throughout the show—classical music boosted by a thumping bass line, pantomime-style set changes, cotton candy poofy wigs on the servants and visual jokes imprinted on the fabrics of the costumes and hats.
The Beaux’ Stratagem
Closes June 30, 2013
315 W. Fayette Street
2 hours, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $32 – $60
Tuesdays thru Sundays
It’s all Fragonard-era fun, to the point where flatulence and drunken belching are accomplished with panache. Among the priceless moments is Tom feigning illness so he can be near Dorinda while Lady Bountiful gaily calls for a hand saw and perhaps removal of his liver to heal him and a divinely rococo hasty marriage scene officiated by Foigard (Mr. Nelson, in rouge and a massive, floppy black bow tie), a prissy French padre who delivers the rite in fractured English.
The actors seem to love the outrageous extremes of their characters, from the sotted sourness of Mr. Brandhagen’s Sullen, the resigned languor of Miss Anderson’s Kate to the stalwart good cheer and good sense of Miss Schmidt’s Cherry. As the beaux, Mr. Gavigan perfects the dashing rakishness of his character and adds a dollop of flirt, while Mr. Welch proves the tenderer and yearning romantic hero. Other standouts include James Whalen doing double-duty as a gossipy butler and a gallant, eleventh-hour savior and Miss Kelley as a woman positively giddy with science.
Summer would not be the same without froth and Everyman’s The Beaux Stratagem puts on the spritz with lightness and style.
The Beaux Stratagem by George Farquhar, adapted by Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig . Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi . Produced by Everyman Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.