In the age of economical theatre—think: two men and a couch—Restoration Comedy is hardly the genre of the hour. Its large casts, elaborate costumes, multiple locations, and purposefully dated style are often prohibitive in full production. Still, it is my personal conviction that any genre—done well—can succeed, and Everyman’s revival of The Beaux’ Stratagem, adapted by Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig, is a glowing success.
The plot centers around Jack Archer (Danny Gavigan) and Tom Aimwell (Yaegel Welch), a pair of scheming young gentlemen with voracious tastes in women and rapidly disappearing funds with which to pursue them. The two men trade off the assumed roles of master and servant, ultimately complicating their love affairs with Dorinda (Katie Solomon) and Kate Sullen (the excellent Megan Anderson). Along the way, they encounter a litany of absurd characters, from wildly incompetent healers (Kathryn Kelley) and clergymen (Stephen Martin, Bruce Nelson) to members of the nobility they strive to impersonate.
‘The Beaux’ Stratagem’ is a fun, indulgent spectacle of love, deception, and all-around farce. As far as lighter, family-friendly summer theatre goes, who could ask for more?
To be sure, this is an ensemble piece, and some of the smaller roles deserve high praise. James Whalen and Bruce Nelson (as Scrub and Foigard, respectively) nail the style to great comic effect. There are classic slapstick performances from the servant, Daniel (Sean McComas), and Sullen (Clinton Brandhagen), the drunk cuckold with an affinity for throwing chairs through windows. Dorea Schmidt is delightful as the half-innocent innkeeper’s daughter, Cherry. That said, the show belongs, in a sense, to Gavigan, who toes the line perfectly between disarming honesty and virtuosic charm.
Director Vincent Lancisi has the show moving at just the right pace, with expert control over the tone. The scenes at the inn feel like eighteenth-century episodes of Fawtly Towers, and somehow, jokes aimed at that period’s oppressive social systems are landing safely in the new Everyman space. (Speaking of safety, the epic fight choreography by Lewis Shaw earns its share of laughs.)
Meanwhile, the design team has clearly risen to the challenge of this piece, with large moving set pieces (Daniel Ettinger), clever light clues (Jay Herzog), and all-out, pseudo-anachronistic costumes from David Burdick.
The only real flaws of this production are in the writing, and with three authorial hands in play—starting with George Farquhar (1678-1707)—it’s hard to assign responsibility. Yes, it’s quite funny, but it’s also too long—coming in at close to three hours on opening night. The actors do their best to navigate the numerous, direct address soliloquys that needlessly restate exposition by way of clumsy Shakespeare quotations and meta-theatrical quips, but these sections are ultimately less interesting and don’t lend the play any real depth.
The Beaux Stratagem is a fun, indulgent spectacle of love, deception, and all-around farce. As far as lighter, family-friendly summer theatre goes, who could ask for more?
Running time: Two-hours and forty minutes with one intermission.
The Beaux Stratagem runs through June 30, 2013 at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. For tickets call 410.752.2208 or click here.