Bawdy Brits wage war of wits in Everyman Theatre’s The Beaux’ Stratagem

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Katie O. Solomon as Dorinda and Megan Anderson as Mrs. Kate Sullen. (ClintonBPhotography)

Almost every cultural revolution has its counter revolution, so it should come as no surprise that the Puritanical rule of Oliver Cromwell led to the ribaldry of the Restoration period.  Playwright George Farquhar was there to see the end of the Restoration’s pendular swing, and captured the mood of an ecclesiastically unencumbered generation, with The Beaux’ Stratagem.

Adapted for modern audiences by Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig, Farquhar’s early eighteenth century comedy is the final production of the 2012-13 season at Everyman Theatre.  A laugh-filled, lighthearted lark, The Beaux’ Stratagem is a tongue-in-cheek treat.

Heather Lynn Peacock and Sean McComas of the Ensemble. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Set in Lichfield, England, in the Year of our Lord 1707,  The Beaux’ Stratagem is aptly described as the original wing-man comedy.  The play opens as two young chaps – a “gentleman” and his “servant” – make their way to a nondescript inn.  The charlatans quickly come to realize they have actually entered a den of thieves.  But the pair remain, as they plot how to parlay their presence as unknown quantities into the boudoirs of several wealthy damsels in distress.

No stuffy drawing room comedy, Director Vincent M. Lancisi deftly guides his cast from one juicy scene to another.  The repartee is surprisingly smart, and rapiers and cutlasses cleverly clash in an hilarious sword fight, choreographed to comedic perfection by Lewis Shaw.

Religion, romance and the ruling class are all roasted in The Beaux’ Stratagem.  The institution of marriage also takes a number of facetious hits.  The innkeeper Boniface volunteers, “I’ve been married for 20 years, and at this point, a moose with the rickets would look good to me.”

The women get their shots in, too.

When Dorinda innocently asks, “Why did you marry my brother?” Kate replies, “When a man is courting, he is not himself.  He is the oil painting upon which the sketch is based.”

It is left in the end for the minister Foigard to state the obvious, “No one ever dies of marriage.  They suffer, but they do not die.”

From revealing top to frilly bottom, the cast of The Beaux’ Stratagem could not be better.

Yaegel T. Welch portrays the erudite gentleman, Tom Aimwell.  Danny Gavigan, making his Everyman Theatre debut,  appears as Aimwell’s second, Jack Archer.  The agile young actors team well and their stage friendship is easy to accept.

As the neglected Mrs. Kate Sullen, Megan Anderson simmers with unrequited sexuality.  Anderson also conveys a host of emotions with her measured movements and expressive reactions.  Listening to her delicious dialog is only part of the charm of her characterization.  It is an absolute pleasure to simply watch Ms. Anderson act.

Katie O. Solomon as Dorinda, Megan Anderson as Kate Sullen, James Whalen as Scrub, Clinton Brandhagen as Sullen and Danny Gavigan as Archer. Photo by Stan Barouh.
Katie O. Solomon as Dorinda, Megan Anderson as Kate Sullen, James Whalen as Scrub, Clinton Brandhagen as Sullen and Danny Gavigan as Archer. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Kathryn Kelley is frighteningly funny as the capricious quack, Lady Bountiful.  As Boniface tells Archer, “She’s very strong on doctoring and cures almost as many as she kills.”

Giving Puritan piety a black eye is Stephen Patrick Martin as the most-unreverend Gloss.  Martin plays Gloss with unctuous insincerity, jumping easily from cagey highway robber to benevolent baptizer and back again.

Dorea Schmidt turned quite a few heads in her cheeky romp as the innkeeper’s daughter, Cherry.  Even Archer observes, “The landlord’s daughter has already given me a certain leer of invitation.”

Also making her Everyman Theatre debut is Katie O. Solomon who delights as the demure Dorinda.

Three of the supporting players appear in dual roles.  James Whalen serves Lady Bountiful’s household as the bemused butler Scrub; then adroitly alternates in the second act between Scrub and the stodgy aristocrat, Sir Charles.  Whalen’s Scrub proves to be hapless when it comes to protecting his mistress, and his bedside manner had the audience roaring with laughter.

Julia Brandeberry plays both a credulous country woman and a randy lady who is anxious to have her honor compromised.  “I remember her well”, mulls the highwayman Gloss.  “She wanted to be ravished.  We had to keep denying her.”

And veteran actor Bruce Randolph Nelson delivers one scene-stealing moment after another as the effeminate minister Foigard and the scheming innkeeper Boniface.  From the first, it is clear there is no meat on Boniface’s table, but even so, Nelson serves his guests a generous portion of ham.  Nelson also adds relish with lines like, “(my ale is) … smooth as oil, sweet as milk, and strong as the odor of a good woman.”

Needing no ale, as the drunken husband of Kate, is Clinton Brandhagen as Sullen.  Brandhagen depicts Sullen as a chafing mix of bombastic and boorish.  Many husbands play that part in real life with ease, but to pull it off on stage is difficult, and Brandhagen does so convincingly.

Eric Poch and Alex Kafarakis portray Houndslow and Bagshot – the two most inept highwaymen ever to hold up a coach; and Sean McComas and Heather Lynn Peacock round out the amusing ensemble.

The new Everyman space on West Fayette Street allows ample room for the slapstick segues, swashbuckling swordplay and closing dance sequence.  Scenic Designer Daniel Ettinger gives the set a feel of both openness and intimacy.  Lancisi said, “We’ve wanted to do this show for several years.  We just couldn’t squeeze it into the old Charles Street location.”

Lancisi and his stellar cast did however squeeze every delicious drop they could out of Farquhar’s wry and witty play.  And Costume Designer David Burdick squeezed the women into enough boned satin bustiers to keep the lusty men leering.  Highly recommended, The Beaux’ Stratagem is bawdy humor at its best.  It may even give you (and your special someone) a few new courting plays of your own.

The Beaux’ Stratagem runs now through June 30. Running time is about two hours and ten minutes with one intermission. Tickets and other information may be found by contacting the Everyman Theatre Box office.


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