Disguise is human but finding yourself within your true self and that is indeed happiness. And the happiness is running so high it’s maddening over at Everyman Theatre as they close their inaugural season with a rare production of the comic gem The Beaux’ Stratagem. With daring sword-fights, dashing gentlemen, damsels in distress, and a bucket of unsavory and uproarious characters, what more could one want from such an epic evening in live theatre? This wildly hilarious restoration comedy is adapted by Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig, bringing the best of the 1700’s theatrical styling to the audience all night long. Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi, you’ll be hard pressed to find a moment to breathe between all the fits of side-splitting laughter.
The costumes deserve a raving review all their own. Costume Designer David Burdick layers in comedic elements to his design work while maintaining an authenticity that pays homage to the time period. The dresses are extravagant, in eye-popping shades of lime green and electric pink. Their colors and patterns know limitless bounds, especially in regards to the rainbow garment befitted to the dotty Lady Bountiful, a perfect match to the character’s zany personality. Burdick’s work envelops the audience in 18th century countryside England while balancing the perfect juxtaposition of class and eccentricity. The showcase of his finest work happens right at the beginning of the show during the impromptu Parisian-style catwalk-photo shoot that spills down from the house right onto the stage giving everyone the chance to see the brilliance of his craftsmanship.
Adding to this spectacle is Wig Designer Ann Nesmith, a shock of genius in all her stiffly powdered servants’ wigs and bouncy crazy brunette and auburn curls for the ladies. Together these designers present quite the marvel for all to see during this production.
Scenic Designer Daniel Ettinger enhances the performance with his uniquely mobile scenery adding to the fast pacing of the comedy. Ettinger’s pièce de résistance are the grandiose gold chandeliers that line not only the ceiling over the stage but are numerously draped out over the audience as well. The fancy furnishings for the house of Lady Bountiful cut a stark contrast against the more simplistic design of the inn; both scenes allowing ample play space for the physical shenanigans of the play’s natural comedy to unfold.
In a dashing feat of daring, swords are drawn and in this particular comedy Fight Choreographer Lewis Shaw is responsible for making those moments sublime. The perfect hybrid of realistic fighting blends seamlessly with hints of mockery and over-exaggerated movements in Shaw’s work making the epic scenes of fighting a brilliant delight. Not only do we get knights verses knaves but Shaw throws the women into the ring for good measure, his routines challenging the actors in ways that are both astonishing and hysterical to watch.
Director Vincent M. Lancisi, working alongside Dialect Coaches Gary Logan and Leigh Wilson Smiley, add the perfect polish to this comedy by flawless setting their actors to task. Logan and Smiley ensure that there is a distinguishable difference between the proper English characters and those of the working class, the sounds created making a flawless symphony of Britain’s dialect for all to hear. Lancisi maintains impeccable pacing for the show’s duration and keeps the action flowing with a steady pulsing rhythm; key moments punctuated with passionate build-ups, making for never a dull moment throughout the performance.
Lancisi’s subtle hint of modernism slips into the production with the aid of Sound Designer Elisheba Ittoop. Underscoring scene changes and the opening routine with classical music that is backed with a thumping base really drives the overall feel of the show; a unique creation that you won’t see anywhere else. Lancisi succeeds with perfection in his casting choices as well as overall execution of the adaptation; even if you only see the first five minutes, you’ll be amazed.
Despite having leads, this production works almost like an ensemble piece, every player in their place at exactly the right moments. Some of the plays most intriguing, entertaining, and memorable moments pop up during scenes featuring the ensemble. The servant men who quick change the furniture and sets have haughty airs about them and make for a most amusing scene change. Hounslow (Eric Poch) and Bagshot (Alexander Kafarakis) stalk onto the scene only momentarily, but they make for the most ruthless boorish rogues you’ll lay eyes on. Poch and Kafarakis play the thick-headed, dimwitted brutes with a comic edge during the sword fighting routine; a wonderful example of the ensemble surging forth to be noticed.
Cherry (Dorea Schmidt) and Scrub (James Whalen) give the audience a good deal of comic enjoyment for their lowly stations in life. Schmidt is graced with keen comic timing, as is Whalen, and the pair, though not seen together as Scrub and Cherry, deliver a good deal of laughs between them. Bouncy and bubbly and slightly aloof, Schmidt adapts a shrill squeak of a sound, making her both obnoxious and adorable all in one go. Whalen, on the other hand, depends more on his physical exertion to execute the comedy in his character’s existence, but the pair are a ripe hoot that propels the perpetual funny fire of this show.
Leading the show in villainy and also absurd comic institutions is Gloss (Stephen Patrick Martin). A highwayman posing as a man of the cloth makes for hysterical antics regardless of what show you’re seeing and this is no exception. His pontifications on the righteousness of the church lined up against his thieving nature makes Martin’s performance indeed a captivating one, if for nothing else because you won’t be able to stop laughing at how utterly ridiculous his situation is.
Dragging in as the drunkard, for every play has one, is Sullen (Clinton Brandhagen). With a nasty tongue and an even nastier disposition, Brandhagen does the character a swift justice in his comic execution of inebriation. A boisterous and bumbling drunk, his presence upon the stage can’t be missed as he flings himself about causing quite the chaotic stir during the parlor scene. A whole slew of clumsy shenanigans follow in this moment with Brandhagen leading the charge, a most rowdy moment that delights the audience into fits of giggles and guffaws.
Vying for the title of comedy king, or perhaps queen, in this production are Kathryn Kelley (Lady Bountiful) and Bruce Randolph Nelson (Boniface), and later as Foigard. The pair are riotous and between the two you’re likely to lose a lung from laughing so hard. Kelley’s character is as doolally as they come, completely mental and larger than life. She steps into this character with a batty exuberance that burbles outward to anyone and everyone in a manner most befitting of a truly dotty dame. Her ability to be so present in such a large character is astonishing and the more serious the situation gets for her, the more hilarious it becomes for those laughing. Kelley is the epitome of melodramatic comedy and steals the show every moment she sets foot on the stage, particularly toward the end.
Nelson rivals Kelley’s comedy in a style all his own. Relying heavily on his physicality, Nelson takes Boniface, the surly and rather seedy innkeeper, to a whole new comedic height. From his warbling gait to his odd way of prancing or perhaps dodging about the stage, he’s a sheer comic genius. But watching his buffoonery as the innkeeper pales in comparison to his flagrant hilarity as Foigard, the French parson. With flamingly alarming affectations and an attitude the size of the stage itself, Nelson lights this scene on fire with his presence and has the audience in uproarious side-splitting stitches for the whole segment; a finer example of a man gone cuckoo-bananas you will not find. Between the pair, stage would quite literally erupt beneath them should they actually share a scene.
Rounding out this epic production is the fantastic four; the lovers and the beauxs. Aimwell (Yaegel T. Welch) and Jack Archer (Danny Gavigan) are thick as thieves; crafting a believable bromance between them whenever they share a moment on the stage, be it as master and supposed servant or true comrades in arms. Yaegel becomes absolutely smitten, struck down by the harsh arrow of love when he encounters the gooey-eyed Dorinda (Katie O. Solomon). His initial flirtatious chemistry with Solomon is so precious it makes you swoon just to watch it. Solomon is an adorable little princess of a woman on the stage, her emotions best expressed through her face and sudden frantic gestures. The pair become quite involved as the play progresses; love at first sight being perhaps more than they can handle.
Gavigan is a show stealer for sure. He commands his presence on the stage in such a fashion that makes you truly pay attention to his character, rather than what he’s wearing or what’s happening around him. Flipping easily from his cockney to his polished accent he brings the sensual heat in a rather personal scene with Kate Sullen (Megan Anderson) and makes everyone listening weak in the knees. The witty repartee that snaps between them drives this production to a new standard of comedy, their chemistry the perfect balance of love and passionate hated confusion.
Anderson is the shining gem in this production; a phenomenal performance given with an absolute understanding of the dialogue, the time period, and everything in-between. She is the epitome of a restoration comedy female, knowing exactly how to elicit laughs with the use of her fan-language, and knowing exactly how to temper a scene to perfection with the slight shift in her verbal delivery. While the group of actors presented with soliloquies all master them quite well, Anderson rules these moments with an intense approach; her speeches delivered with such honesty in her comedy that you simply love her. An outstanding performance that completes this show, truly worthy of enjoying.
Get thee a sword, or perhaps just a pistol, but mind where you aim it, and head down to Everyman Theatre before the beauxs and their stratagem dash off into the night.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.