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The Beaux' Stratagem

Consent is law enough to set you free.
---Jack Archer

Julia Coffey as Dorinda, Nancy Robinette as Lady Bountiful, Christian Conn as Tom Aimwell and Christopher Innvar as Jack Archer
J. Coffey, N. Robinette, C. Conn and C. Innvar
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Offering up a world premiere, the Shakespeare Theatre Company is delighting audiences with a newly adapted Ken Ludwig piece about deceitful lovers, highway robbers and romantic hijinks. The Beaux' Stratagem was first written by George Farquhar in 1707 and then later partially adapted by Thornton Wilder in 1939. However with the outbreak of World War II, Wilder abandoned the project after finishing half of the script (approximately the first act). Then in 2000, Wilder's handwritten, 57-page manuscript was discovered and shortly thereafter, Ken Ludwig began work on finishing the piece.

Once Ludwig contacted Michael Kahn about the project, the Shakespeare Theatre became involved. Approximately two years ago a reading of The Beaux' Stratagem was held and then slated for production in the company's current season. Rewrites, changes and adaptations continued to happen -- even during rehearsal and previews week as scenes and dialogue were being changed and restructured. The final product is a tightly drafted, nicely balanced, bawdy farce that makes fun of love, marriage, religion, money, medicine and high society.

The story may seem familiar, the end is obvious, but -- as in life -- it's the journey that matters. So, while this is hardly thought-provoking theatre, it is a wonderful, campy romp that will have you laughing in your seat for over two hours.

The basic plot: Two rakish, down-on-their-luck gentlemen, Jack Archer and Tom Aimwell, conspire to marry well and split the proceeds of their wives' dowries. Stopping in the small, country hamlet of Lichfield, the two mercenary, but good-hearted gents begin to search for an appropriately naïve, young heiress. This they find in the young Miss Dorinda Bountiful, who lives with her brother Sullen, sister-in-law Kate and her mother, the Lady Bountiful.

While staying at the local inn, Jack and Tom meet the innkeeper Boniface and his young daughter Cherry. It's here that mistaken identities occur as Cherry and Boniface decide that Jack and Tom are novice highwaymen. Enter the Minister Gloss, the military chaplain and also the leader of the local highwaymen gang who uses the inn as a hideout for his cache of stolen goods.

As Tom falls madly in love with Dorinda (and she with him) and Jack falls in love with Kate Sullen (and she with him), Gloss and his men plan to rob the Bountiful home -- much to the distress of Cherry who is the goddaughter of Lady Bountiful. As the robbery plan hatches, Gloss and his gang plan their retirement on the Bountiful jewels; Kate's brother Sir Charles Freeman arrives in answer to her distressed letters about her horrible marriage to the ever-drunken Sullen; and Jack and Tom vow to save the Bountiful women from harm. It's all a fun, uproarious evening of comedy and mayhem.

Director Michael Kahn has crafted a well-timed comedy, where every line seems to bring a guffaw from some part of the audience. Set designer James Kronzer's elaborately spinning set creates three wonderfully distinct backdrops for the action. Robert Perdziola's costumes are on target with a bit of comic flare. And fight choreographer Paul Dennhardt has created an elaborate seven-person sword fight which is a highlight of the production.

The large cast has several standouts. Christopher Innvar is a delight as the rakish Jack Archer -- you don't trust him, but you still like him and might even loan him some cash. Veanne Cox makes every line spoken by Kate Sullen seem like an acid tinged arrow directed at the institution of marriage or her husband Mister Sullen. As her unhappy spouse, Ian Bedford creates a loveable lug who you hope finds his perfect bottle of ale. Nancy Robinette is a gem as the local medical "genius" Lady Bountiful. As she gleefully fondles a pair of vice grips and marvels at her great skill as a country doctor, you understand why her patients never seem to return.

Rick Foucheux' Gloss mirrors the dualities of ministry and robbery very nicely and harkens to today's televangelists. Hugh Nees as the manservant Scrub adds comedic flair to every scene he appears, while Floyd King's quick turn as the easily slighted French priest Foigard is a pleasure to watch. And as the young lovers Tom and Dorinda, Christian Conn and Julia Coffey are equally matched as big-hearted rake and not so naïve debutante.

This world premiere is quite a treat and with its elaborately twirling set, great cast and wonderful bawdy humor The Beaux' Stratagem becomes a delight that is not to be missed.

The Beaux' Stratagem
by George Farquhar, adapted by Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig
Directed by Michael Kahn
with Ian Bedford, Field Blauvelt, Julia Coffey, Christian Conn, Veanne Cox, Dan Crane, Colleen Delany, Drew Eshelman, Rick Foucheux, Meghan Grady, Daniel Harray, Christopher Innvar, Maria Kelly, Floyd King, Diane Ligon, David Murgittroyd, Hugh Nees, Nancy Robinette, Anne Stone, Matthew Stucky, and Nick Vienna
Set Design: James Kronzer
Costume Design: Robert Perdziola
Lighting Design: Joel Moritz
Sound Design: Martin Desjardins
Choreographer: Peter Pucci
Fight Director: Paul Dennhardt
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission
Shakespeare Theatre Company, 450 7th Street NW
Telephone: 202-547-1122
TUE-WED@7:30, THUR-SAT@8, SAT-SUN@2, SUN@7:30; $19-$76.25
Opening 11/07/06, closing 12/31/06
Reviewed by Rich See based on 11/15/06 performance
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© 2006  Elyse Sommer.