Friday, April 26, 2013

Beaux' Strategem: Ribald and a Romp

Beaux’ Stratagem at ANW
By George Farquhar
Adapted by Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig
Malia Wright and Abby Craden Photo by Craig Schwartz

As we enter the back door of the new A Noise Within space in Pasadena, we are greeted by a notice announcing  that Caleb Mayo, the understudy for Blake Ellis will play the part of Jack Archer tonight.  The theatre has a heavy schedule with three plays in repertory and Farquar’s Beaux’ Stratagem is the last one in the cycle.  Restoration comedy can be wonderful or it can be a mess in the hands of folks who don’t get the subtleties.  It’s got to be broad, but in a stylized manner. The Manner is the key and in director Julia Rodrigues-Elliott’s hands, the show picks right up and a good time is had by all. 

ANW uses its thrust stage and aisles to best advantage, inviting the audience to come along for the ride.  Michael C. Smith’s rustic 18th Century set with diverse country settings which evolve into several different locations beautifully sets the scene.  We’re on location for a romp.  Jack Archer / aka Martin (the wonderful Caleb Mayo, understudy to Blake Ellis, never drops a stitch) and his pal Tom Aimwell (Freddy Douglas) have a plan. Both near-do-wells, Aimwell pretends to be a moneyed and well bred courtier while Archer masquerades as his servant.  Together, they plot (thus the ‘stratagem’ part) to find a rich woman; Aimwell will marry her for her fortune and then the two will split the booty. 

Meanwhile we meet Time Winters as the rascally Gloss, a Scot  who sometimes masquerades as a parson.  Later in the play, Winters returns in the person of Foixgarde, an impatient Frenchman who stops the show with his broad accent and even broader impatience.

The “booty” in this case turns out to be more than one fair lady.  Mrs. Kate Sullen (confidence and perfection: Abby Credon) is an unhappy wife to sot and besotted Sullen (appropriately over the top in his cups Robertson Dean who is having more fun than anyone in the entire theater!).  Drunk, Sullen proposes that Archer should kiss his wife.  It takes a while with plot twists, sword fights and lots of yelling. But the strategy winds its way to a fun conclusion. Malia Wright’s Dorinda plays well with others, especially in a well staged sword play scene coordinated by Kent Merckx.

Ever wonderful Deborah Strang as a ‘healer,’ Lady Bountiful, flounces and bounces as she plies her trade with prescriptions of amputation for a scratch while sturdy assistant, Scrub (Alan Blumenfeld), gamely keeps up. 

ANW founder, Julia Rodriguez-Elliot’s direction allows the actors full reign as the audience is drawn more and more into the hilarity, the cast feeds on the palpable energy. The play moves apace with vigor.  

In a clever cinematic move, lighting designer Meghan Gray partners with sound designer Doug Newall to emphasize moments where characters ‘discover’ one another.  In a pink glow complete with heavenly harps, the action stops briefly. Ahh, love.

Excellent costumes are by Angela Balogh Calin. Hair, wigs and make-up by Monica Lisa Sabedra. 

The ensemble bursts upon the stage in cacophonous prattle as the scenes change. Production is a finely tuned machine, especially with an understudy in a key role completely in charge of every move, this is one of the best shows that the company has presented in a long time. 

by George Farquar
Adapted by  Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig
A Noise Within
3352 E. Foothill Boulevard
Pasadena, CA  91107
Through May 26, 2013
Tickets and Information  626 356 3100  

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