The Beaux' Stratagem: A Comedy At UH About 2 Young Men Who're Desperately Seeking Women & Money
Photo by Pin Lim Susie Parr and Ashley Fox are the ladies of the house, and Camron Ross Alexander a servant
The Beaux' Stratagem, a Restoration comedy by George Farquhar, first produced in 1807, newly re-discovered and growing in popularity, charts the chicanery of two young gentlemen, having spent their fortunes on carousing and high living, who now travel outside London to seek wealthy women. One pretends to be the servant of the other, alternating these roles, in order to create the impression of wealth.
The play is as fresh as though written yesterday, and its amorality could not be more timely. The two young men have the instincts of gentlemen, and the morals of a hyena, but their sense of honor tilts them toward a basic humanity. Michael Thatcher plays Jack Archer, pretending to be the servant - this is the lead role - and he brings a courtly charm, a roguish gleam in the eye, and a presence that commands the stage. His friend Tom Aimwell is portrayed by David Huynh, who delivers the required swashbuckling and romantic interest.
The intended prey is the household of Lady Bountiful, whose young daughter Dorinda (Ashley Fox) is beautiful and wealthy, and who is close to her sister-in-law Kate (Susie Parr), unhappily married to Jack Sullen (Michael Lee), a heavy drinker who neglects his husbandly duties, leaving Kate . . . well, you know. Parr as Kate could not be better, adding comic timing to beauty, and she and Thatcher form an attachment that is captivating and delightful. The comedy is broad and rollicking, open to exaggerations that work brilliantly, yet Parr and Thatcher succeed in creating authentic personalities in the midst of careening humor.
Adam Noble directed the comedy, and his gifts for comic invention, breakneck pace, and use of body language to enhance humor are apparent throughout. A dueling scene is unexpectedly hilarious, and Noble makes even the minor characters vivid and compelling. Camron Ross Alexander plays Scrub, servant to Lady Bountiful, and he is wonderful in turning what could be a throwaway role into a richly comic character. Emily Wold as a French chaplain charms and delights. Mateo Mpinduzi-Mott as the highwayman Gloss, also a cleric, is excellent as he dreams of retiring to London where his eloquence will sway the masses -- despite a pronounced stammer.
Tom Conry as a dishonest innkeeper is credible and interesting, and Shunte' Lofton as his daughter Cherry is beautiful, flirtatious and deeply amusing. Shelby Blocker as Lady Bountiful is over-the-top, aided by costuming to suit, and Lee as Kate's neglectful husband garners the opprobrium he deserves. Billy Reed plays Kate's brother, a late arrival, and is excellent.
There is a lot of plot, gratefully, and this keeps the action flowing - in fact, leaping and bounding! - and propels the protagonists into action that reveal the warm hearts beneath the mendacious exteriors.
We have a rich cast of characters, thanks to the playwright, and have hugely effective portrayals, thanks to the director and actors, and the trifecta is the production team. The costumes by Jodie Daniels are detailed and sumptuous, with those of the two heroines especially beautiful, one peach-colored, one mauve, multi-tiered, with inserts and loaded with lace. And the canopy bed and matching screen are witty. The set by Frankie Teuber is largely abstract but creates the appropriate settings with suspended artifacts and movable walls, changed adroitly by stagehands as monologue are delivered downstage. Gregory Starbird was the designer for the very effective lighting.
Two centuries have not dimmed the luster of this richly hilarious comedy, which sparkles with the sheen of brilliance. It has been given a triumphant revival, and its very contemporary wit, delightful humor and rewarding characterizations make this must-see theater.
The Beaux' Stratagem continues through October 13, from the University of Houston at the Wortham Theatre, 133 Wortham Street. For information or ticketing, call 713-743-2929 or visit uh.edu.theatre-and-dance.