When you read the program notes about the torturous path that brought this version of “The Beaux Stratagem” to the stage, you wonder whether it was worth the wait of 67 years. Another caveat is that George Farguhar died two months after this play premiered in 1707 and the play is based on his dismal marriage. But if you want a lighthearted romance with a happy ending and a bit of swashbuckling sword fighting on the side, this A Noise Within production is made to order.
Farguhar married a widow whom he thought had money of her own. What she did have was 10 years on him and three children from her previous marriage. As divorce was illegal, Farquhar was trapped and supporting this instant family sent him into dept. He was poor and dying when his friend got him to write this play, his last of the seven plays he wrote in his brief lifetime.
In 1939, Wisconsin-born, Yale and Princeton-educated Thornton Wilder began adapting this play. This was after he wrote his 1938 classic “Our Town.” Wilder got sidetracked, getting stuck on how to finish up his adaptation and being seduced by the idea for a new play which would become the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1943 “The Skin of Our Teeth.”
After long after Wilder’s 1975 death, his nephew Tappan Wilder, as executor of Thornton Wilder’s estate found the unfinished manuscript and asked playwright Ken Ludwig to complete the work. Ludwig finished in 2005 and what a charming little love story this is.
In the play, two men Jack (Blake Ellis) and Tom (Freddy Douglas) arrive in Lichfield, a small down in the countryside outside of London, looking for good-looking women with some wealth to marry. They disguise themselves as master and servant, but that fools no one. The inn is owned by Boniface (Apollo Dukakis) who runs it with his fresh-faced but not foolish daughter Cherry (Alison Elliott). Boniface’s friend is both a man of the cloth and the leader of a group of highway robbers (Time Winters).
One of their marks is a woman who believes she has healing powers and professes to be a doctor, Lady Bountiful (Deborah Strang), but those patients of hers who live rarely return. Her son Sullen (Robertson Dean) is a drunkard best described as “the sketch on which the oil painting is based. He’s married to the lovely but unhappy Kate Sullen (Abby Craden). Kate’s sister-in-law Dorinda is a proper lady looking for love.
Kate and Dorinda will find love and there will be a happy ending, but they know that “ox and Moron may describe many a husband” and that “men are not themselves when they court.”
Julia Rodriguez-Elliott directs with a sure hand–no one is over the top and some people even attempt British accents. Costume designer Angela Balogh Calin and scenic designer Michael C. Smith have made this a handsome production. Kate and Dorinda’s gowns are gorgeous, but contrast the hilarious over-teasted white mess of hair (is that a scissors stuck in Lady Bountiful’s hair) and untidy style of Lady Bountiful. Smith’s set design includes warmly toned natural and partially painted wood to represent the tavern and other pieces of furniture.
This isn’t high British humor, but a bit low with sexual innuendo and commentary on life, men, women, family and fortune.
“The Beaux Stratagem” continues at A Noise Within until 26 May 2013. A Noise Within is located 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena.