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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Flirty Fun: The Beaux' Strategem

The Beaux' Strategem
by George Farquhar
Director: Antoni Cimolino
Designers: Patrick Clark (set / costumes), Robert Thomson (lighting), Thomas Ryder Payne (sound)
Cast: The Beaux' Strategem. Photo: Michael Cooper

We may have to excuse playwright George Farquhar for never editing his last play so that the long and tedious first half would match the quick playfulness of the second - the man died a mere two months after it was first staged. He himself apologized for an faults the audience may detect in the script, as he wrote it in sickness, literally on his death-bed.

As is the case, then, with Christina the Girl King, in this production of The Beaux' Strategem we have a cast and director that out-performs the material.

As befitting a restoration comedy, the set and costumes are quite beautiful; but this being a late restoration comedy, some care is taken with not being too beautiful.  It is set in the country, after all, where the higher-born are beginning to mix with the middle and lower classes - so instead of an out and out farce, the plot has a bit more meat on its bones. That it also has some holes may therefore - almost - be forgiven.

It stands thus - two formerly wealthy young men, going by the names of Archer and Aimwell, have come into the country in order to seduce women out of their fortunes. However, each has their affections snagged, one by the lovely Dorinda, and the other twice - once by the innkeeper's daughter Cherry, and once more by the unhappily married Mrs. Sullen. There are more strategems going on than the Beaux' can handle - after all the seductions, the robberies, the injuries and the cures, Aimwell and Dorinda will marry, the Squire and Mrs. Sullen are vaguely but happily divorced, Cherry has conveniently disappeared, and Archer is free to have his merry way with Mrs. Sullen. Or vice versa.

Evan Buliung as Count Bellair.
Photo: Michael Cooper
Colm Feore as Archer.
Photo: Michael Cooper

Trust me on this, be patient with the first half because the second is tremendously rewarding. 

Not only do Colm Feore and Mike Shara have a natural "buddy-movie" vibe going, complete with Mr. Feore's quick-as-lightening dialogue and Mr. Shara's physical comedy, there are a thousand memorable moments delivered by nearly everyone else - Bethany Jilliard and Sara Farb break out of their sweet-as-pie molds with a bit of sass from Ms. Jilliard and brass from Ms. Farb, and Gordon S. Miller makes Scrub the-Sunday-butler a meatier part that the author intended (as he always manages to do, whatever role he plays).  
Gordon S. Miller as Scrub, with Colm
Feore as Archer. Photo: Michael Cooper

Lucy Peacock as Mrs. Sullen.
Photo: Michael Cooper

The true scalywags of the plot  - Boniface the innkeeper, Gibbet the highwayman and Foigard the French-Irish-German priest - are brought to hilarious life by Robert King, Victor Ertmanis and Michael-Spencer Davis, and Evan Buliung's foppish Count Bellair has the audience - and even an opening night cast-mate - in stitches. 

As for Lucy Peacock, playing Mrs. Sullen, she appears to be having a whopping good time, as does Martha Henry, playing Lady Bountiful. And why wouldn't she? In what other part would a septuagenarian bring down the house while wielding a broad sword? Or a cucumber? (I told you to trust me.)
Mike Shara as Aimwell and Bethany Jilliard as Dorinda.
Photo: Michael Cooper.
Or rather, trust the director, Antoni Cimolino, whose firm hand is on the rudder of this production. He knows the material, he knows how to use the thrust stage, he trusts his actors, and it is obvious that they trust him. 

The Beaux' Strategem continues in repertory at the Festival Theatre until October 11.

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