The history of the text is rather interesting: it turns out American playwright Thorton Wilder was engaged to produce a somewhat modernized script in 1939, began work, but never finished it. In 2004, Ken Ludwig was invited by the Wilder estate to finish the work, which was first produced by the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C. in 2006. The end result is a very fast-paced and funny script that was very enjoyable to watch, without being obviously Bowdlerized or in any way “dumbed down.” This is a good thing, particularly if it makes this famous play more popular in the United States. After all, this is the work that gave the language “Lady Bountiful,” the archetype of the well-meaning but dangerously misguided helpful soul.
The plot concerns the “stratagem” of the two young men, Jack Archer (John Gallagher) and Tom Aimwell (Tim Braun), who have largely spent their inheritances, to find one of them a wealthy wife among the rural gentry. They take turns posing as master and servant, having agreed that whichever one strikes it rich will split the pot with the other. Arriving in the town of Lichfield, it is Aimwell’s turn to be master, and Archer to be his “footman”. They lodge at the inn run by Boniface (J. Pat Cahill), who is in cahoots with Reverend Gloss, who is, besides being the Chaplain of the regional militia, the local highwayman and leader of a gang of robbers.
Since Aimwell and Archer are being coy about who they are and where they come from, Gloss and Boniface leap to the conclusion that they must be criminals also, and try to recruit Archer into their plan to burgle and rob Lady Bountiful’s house.
Meanwhile, Aimwell falls in love at first sight with Lady Bountiful’s daughter, Dorinda (Jennifer Mitchell), while Archer is attracted both to Cherry, the innkeeper’s beautiful daughter (Alexandra Bonesho) and to Kate Sullen (Kelsey Lauren) the equally beautiful and sharp-witted wife of Bountiful’s drunken sot of a son (Joe Picchetti). Complications, of course, ensue.
The major roles are rounded out by Kirstin Benjamin as a fearsomely avid but sweet-natured Lady Bountiful, and harry Loeffler-Bell as Scrub, her loyal servant. Both of these are wonderfully funny parts and the actors and audience all had great fun with them.
A lot of the heavy lifting in the script is given to Gallagher as Archer, and Lauren as Mrs. Sullen, both of whom have multiple lengthy monologues addressed to the audience, which both actors had down flawlessly and delivered with great verve. All the actors had a good amount of physical action to deal with as well as deliver lines, and this was also well planned and well executed.
The set was minimal, consisting of moveable doors with a few other pieces, and painted backdrops supposed to be referential to the theatre of the time, which worked nicely. The cast did scene changes in character, which was also amusing. Costumes, some of which were designed, and some of which were borrowed, looked very good, right down to the ladies’ underwear (which we did see).
The Helfaer Theater is a small venue, and we had very good seats in the second row from which we enjoyed the action.
“The Beaux’ Strategem” continues through Nov. 21st, and is highly recommended.
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