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Everyman Theatre closes season with animated 'Beaux' Stratagem'

It could stand a little more swash, and maybe an extra buckle or two, but Everyman Theatre's staging of "The Beaux' Stratagem" provides a diverting close to the company's first season in its new home.

The space itself has a starring role, thanks to Daniel Ettinger's colorful set. It gives the large cast, vibrantly costumed by David Burdick, plenty of room to romp in, and considerable romping is called for in this Restoration comedy from 1707 by George Farquhar.

The original play does not see the spotlight these days. Everyman is using an adaptation recently fashioned by farce master Ken Ludwig (his hits include "Lend Me a Tenor"), based on a draft started in 1939 and left incomplete by Thornton Wilder.

This streamlined version of "The Beaux' Stratagem" whittles things down from five acts to two. A few characters have been jettisoned, renamed or reworked. The net result preserves and, I think it's safe to say, improves upon the plot.

At the heart of that plot there are still "two gentlemen of broken fortunes," as Farquhar's original text has it, who become male gold diggers. In the English town of Lichfield, they get more than they bargained for, encountering scoundrels and fakes, as well as beguiling prospects of the opposite sex.

Directed by company head Vincent M. Lancisi, the amiable Everyman production is short on the element of surprise, the sort served up so imaginatively in the Center Stage production of a later 18th-century comedy, Richard Brinsley Sheridan's "The Rivals," a couple years ago.

Much of the expository first act feels draggy, despite periodic musical bursts of Handel set to a disco beat. It's not helped by belabored attempts at humor, such as some shtick with luggage hauled upstairs. 

Other things get drawn out later on. The sword-fighting scene starts to look forced; the dance episode (Farquhar inserted one before the final curtain, as in baroque operas) would be more charming at half the length.

Those reservations aside, there is much that clicks smoothly and amusingly here. A visual flash of women hiding in a china cabinet pays off nicely, for example, and a recurring sonic element involving attraction-at-first-sight moments among various characters gets increasingly witty.

Assured performances are the rule. Danny Gavigan proves especially effective as Jack Archer, one of the two determined beaux, this one pretending to be the servant of his buddy Tom Aimwell (Yaegel T. Welch). Gavigan puts a spirited spin on text and nimbly embraces the physicality of the role. And he clicks tightly with Megan Anderson, whose dynamic portrayal of Archer's love interest, the unhappily married Kate, is a major asset.

Clinton Brandhagen staggers winningly through the role of Kate's persistently under-the-influence spouse, Sullen. Welch's Aimwell is as not dominant a figure as it should be, but the actor has abundant gusto and gets in some fun business in the second act. Katie O. Solomon does vibrant work as Aimwell's romantic target, Dorinda.

Kathryn Kelley gives the whole production a delightful lift each time she flutters onto the stage as Lady Bountiful, the self-proclaimed doctor with a tendency to reach for the saw first, ask questions later. Stephen Patrick Martin is effective as the duplicitous Gloss.

James Whalen smoothly darts between the roles of Sullen's servant and Kate's aristocratic brother. Dorea Schmidt is engaging as Cherry, daughter to the tricky innkeeper Boniface, played by a well-padded Bruce Randolph Nelson. He gets the real chance to shine, though, as the French cleric Foigard, delivering one of the drollest comic outings of the season.

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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