Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Comedy Translates Well For a Modern Audience: “The Beaux Stratagem” charms at A Noise Within
Some plays age better than others. A play by Shakespeare, say, can be done (with, perhaps, a few judicious cuts) using the same language and references as the day it was written.On the other hand, some plays out of antiquity – particularly some from the English Restoration – reference a society so far removed from our own that adaptation becomes key to understanding.
Take, as example, George Farquhar’s “The Beaux Stratagem.” A delightful comedy, which provided Farquhar’s last days with a bonafide success, it deals with universally funny things in a way which needs some translation for the modern ear. Thornton Wilder began that adaptation into the beginning of 1939 before tossing it aside in favor of material more in tune with the atmosphere of impending war. Indeed, the manuscript languished until Ken Ludwig finished and polished it in 2005.
Now the work of all three shines at A Noise Within. There this “new” production of the delightful old play offers farce, romance, laughter and a certain amount of rather hysterical social commentary which does not talk down to a modern audience, but speaks in a language they can understand. In short, it is a surprising and delightful hit.
Jack Archer and Tom Aimwell are on a lark. Largely out of money, due to their own profligacy, they determine to roam the countryside pretending to be a rich man and his servant until one of them weds a wealthy heiress. When they land at an inn which harbors highwaymen, and befriend a crazed but wealthy woman who fancies herself a medical talent, the plot thickens.
Blake Ellis makes a handsome, and calculating Jack, pretending rather badly to be a servant. Freddy Douglas swoops about with considerable emotionalism as Tom, acting as a fake nobleman with greater or lesser success. Robertson Dean has a lovely time as the constantly drunken Sullen, heir to the medical woman’s fortune.
Abby Craden and Malia Wright create the charming women who interest Jack and Tom as Sullen’s wife and his sister: bored, romantic, yet with a practical edge. Apollo Dukakis makes a nicely grumbly innkeeper, while Alison Elliott proves gently charming as his daughter.
Perhaps most memorable are the two most spectacularly peculiar characters: Deborah Strang as Lady Bountiful, relishing her peculiar potions, tinctures and saws, and Time Winters, as both a military chaplain turned highwayman, and most delightfully a pompous, somewhat confused French cleric.
Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliot has a handle on fast-paced comic turns, and finds the right balance between the need for understandable explanatory passages and the sheer silliness of much of the physical comedy. In a brilliant move, the set is shifted by hands in period costume, keeping the sense of time and place from dissipating. The attention to detail proves most important.
“The Beaux Stratagem,” as reworked, is clever, accessible, swoopingly physical, and utterly satisfying. It doesn’t have to be deep to be a real pleasure. Consider this your best tonic for a tough week.
What: “The Beaux Stratagem” When: Through May 26, in repertory with “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Eurydice”, 8 p.m. selected Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. selected Sunday evenings, 2 p.m. selected Saturday and Sunday matinees Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $40 – $60, with group and student-group rates Info: (626) 356-3100 or http://www.ANoiseWithin.org