What does a play from the 1700s have in common with a 70s sitcom? Not a lot, really, other than the fact that few people in the audience remember the culture of either. It is an odd pairing, but this quirky offering from the Rude Mechanicals, the resident theater company at the Greenbelt Arts Center, is charming and clever.
The original “The Beaux’ Stratagem,” written in 1707 by George Farquhar, has the classic premise of schemers trying to trick heiresses into marrying them to steal their fortunes. Think of “The Producers,” “The Lady Eve,” “How to Marry a Millionaire,” and “Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels” as a partial list of more recent examples of this plot. This version, adapted and directed by Jaki Demarest, is a complicated but delightful take on the genre.
…this quirky offering from the Rude Mechanicals…is charming and clever.
Set as a sitcom filmed in front of a live studio audience (played by the audience), the crew members/actors scurry about changing scene dressings as part of the play. The actors start the play on stage, fretting about whether or not they should use Southern accents once they’ve figured out the play takes place in Lichfield, Kentucky—and off they go as the the director calls places. Tom and Archer (well played by Tommy Hegerty and Daniel Hubbell) are best friends who move around the country to find rich women to marry, taking turns as the suitor. When they land in Kentucky, their plans immediately go awry when Tom falls in love with his intended target, Dorinda Bountiful (Spencer Dye). There are many love interests and plot twists—a drunken sheriff who takes up semi-permanent residence on the couch at the inn where the scoundrels are staying; plotting women; a gang of robbers; and a dead brother— which all make for a busy few days in Kentucky.
Inn keeper John Boniface (played to perfection by Joshua Engel) is the kind of guy your mom went out with once in the seventies but won’t admit to it. He is a happy, slow-talker who may possibly be high all the time.
For anyone who lived through the seventies, this set (designed by Jaki Demarest and Alan Duda) is like a bad memory—avocado walls with mustard-yellow accents, macramé wall hangings and plastic chairs in the shape of hands. Tom and Archer arrive at the Dew Drop Inn with matching white vest and bell-bottom pants, in their best John Travolta imitation. In fact, Travolta’s “Saturday Night Fever” moves are frequent in this production, as are references to “Charlie’s Angels,” Battleship, and Andy Warhol.
The music, also from the seventies, is a great addition to setting the time period, as well as involving the audience. There are several places for audience participation, as with Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself,” mournfully started by Boniface but soon joined by cast and audience.
The most interesting part of the play comes from the intermingling of language written in the 1700s and modern language and idioms, all delivered with either a British accent or a Southern drawl. Not all the 18th century language is decipherable (on first viewing, at least), but no matter, the meaning is clear. One particularly poignant soliloquy from Dorinda’s best friend, Kate Sullen (Melissa Schick), is delivered while a loud kazoo plays right behind her. Here is a play that invites the audience to not take it seriously and just enjoy the ride.
Running time: Approximately two hours with one 15-minute intermission.
“The Beaux Stratagem” runs through April 1, 2023 at the Greenbelt Arts Center, 123 Centerway, Greenbelt, MD. For more information or tickets, please call 301-441-8770, or go online here.