Our Country’s Good, now playing at the Guthrie, tantalizes audiences with short glimpses of its play-within-the-play. Rehearsals of this latter work, George Farquhar’s 1707 comedy The Recruiting Officer, are constantly interrupted by onstage events. The only time that a substantial excerpt is heard is just before Our Country’s Good’s curtain comes down. If you’re wondering what Farquhar wrote after those snippets, the answer is just down Washington Ave South at Theatre in the Round’s The Beaux’ Stratagem.
The Beaux’ Stratagem is Farquhar’s final play, a sparkling example of Restoration comedy at its finest, most balanced rapier point. The script abounds with witty repartee, sparks with suggestive and bawdy lines, and features plenty of dynamic characters that are not at all as they first appear. The cast of the Theatre in the Round production brings this polished and still-fresh script to life with gusto and aplomb – and a good deal of swashbuckling swordplay.
The titular beaux are a pair of gentlemen (Ware Carlton-Ford and Mark L. Mattison) down on their fortunes and high on their scheming. Their goal is to end up with at least one of them married and rich, a scheme that naturally doesn’t take long to run into trouble. There’s an attractive innkeeper’s daughter (Missy Hildebrandt) who can turn the tables on a seduction, a priest (John Adler) with a band of highway robbers, and worst of all the attractive and wealthy Mrs. Kate Sullen (Megan Dowd)’s living spouse.
There are several excellent performances in this cast, but the chemistry between Dowd and Carlton-Ford sizzles in scene after scene. The character of Mrs. Sullen benefits from many a memorable monologue, increasingly spicy dialogue, and an arresting performance by its actress. Since this is a Restoration play, there are heaving bosoms and women in underwear – but also much, much more. The discourses on marriage are timeless and interesting, the verbal fencing is amusing and never derails the progress of the plot pace, and the swordplay (choreographed by Mike Lubke) is abundant and a major attraction in its own right. The Beaux’ Stratagem adds up to an evening very well spent.
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