Review: ‘The Beaux’ Stratagem’
To summarize the UH School of Theatre and Dance’s latest production, “The Beaux’ Stratagem,” in one word would be impossible.
The play isn’t about money, marriage or villainy, nor is it about love, lust or greed. Though the play written by George Farquhar flaunts all of these themes generously, it inspires a sense of pride in the well-read who understand the deeper meaning: To find happiness is to be true to yourself.
In this Restoration-era comedy, partners in crime Tom Aimwell and Jack Archer enter the country town of Lichfield with a deceptive game in mind: To fund their extravagant lifestyle and bandage their currently penniless condition, they’ll con rich women into marrying them by feigning gentility. In each town, one friend disguises himself as gentleman, and the other as his servant.
However, robbing the country folks of their excess riches proves more difficult than expected when Lichfield citizens seem to have more wit than the two men hope. After setting their sights on a rich doctor’s two daughters, Dorinda Bountiful and Kate Sullen, the not-so-put-together façade crumbles around them when “true love” rears its head — as it always does in comedies.
This adaptation by Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig, directed by Adam Noble, exhibits many, if not all, of the common characteristics of its genre. As one of the last comedies of manners — a term for the Restoration comedy, written and performed between 1660 and 1710 — the humor is dark and sexually explicit, the plot is bustling, the themes are topical and the patriarchy is, well, astonishing to the modern viewer.
Unlike most works of this genre, the 1707 play demonstrates a subtle use of early feminism through satire — at least in today’s theaters, where the audience can blissfully believe that all its prided performance pioneers ignored the misogyny of their eras. What could be mistaken as a chauvinistic cynicism regarding marriage could also be Farquhar conveyance of the need for social equality between sexes.
“The roots of feminism began around this time, so in this play, we meet strong female characters, including Dorinda and Kate,” Noble said in a press release about the production. “They’re on par with their male counterparts as opposed to being damsels in distress.”
Although the transition between scenes was rough in the first act as the stage crew stumbled with the furniture, the School of Theatre and Dance got creative with the scene changes in the latter half of the play, learning the art of distraction to keep the audience entertained.
Dull moments were rare in this play, and humor was bountiful, as the audience was kept laughing for the majority of the play’s two hours. Patrons are no doubt eagerly awaiting the school’s next production, “Blood Wedding,” which opens Oct. 25.
“The Beaux’ Stratagem” will be performed again at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 for students. For more information, please visit theatredance.uh.edu.