One day, two dashing rapscallions, Archer and Aimwell, roll into a rural English town in the year 1707. Down to their last 200 pounds the two hatch a scheme: one will pose as a lord; the other, his servant. In this way they hope to woo a wealthy woman, claim her fortune and split it for themselves. The two quickly become tangled up in the schemes and deviances of the not-so-innocent townsfolk they are trying to swindle, to hilarious effect.
"The Beaux’ Stratagem" is a comedy through and through. Each character is a charmingly corrupt individual. From the local robbery ring run by the town priest Gloss, the inn keep Boniface and his lustful daughter Cherry, to the mad scientist-eque Lady Bountiful, a wealthy matriarch whose ill-informed passion for medicine leaves more corpses upon her table than healthy patients leaving her door.
While trying to dupe the Bountiful family of their money, Archer and Aimwell fall in love with the women they are trying to trick. Aimwell falls for Lady Bountiful’s daughter Dorinda, and Archer falls for Mrs. Sullen, the wife of Lady Bountiful’s alcoholic son. The two are initially kicked out of the Bountiful household when it is discovered they are faking their identities. However, the pair discovers a plot by other thieves to rob the Bountiful household and rush back to rescue the women they love; much to the delight of the randy ladies, marriage vows be damned.
The play’s humor is derived much from the characters themselves. Each character interacts with others in comical ways, from clever quips to slapstick physical humor. The show is delightfully rife with innuendo.
Another cool feature is the breaking of the fourth wall. When the title of the play is mentioned in dialogue, a chime rings as a funny self-aware nod. Characters often stop and interact with the audience, involving them in their monologues.
One character, the French priest Foigard, takes this one step further by literally dragging himself and his marriage cart through the aisles to take a seat in a huff after being slighted by the other characters. He exclaims "Pardon, excuse moi," while shuffling past bent-kneed audience members. He is obnoxious, and the audience can’t stop laughing.
This over-the-top, slapstick, innuendo-laiden humor is exactly what makes "The Beaux’ Stratagem" so entertaining. From the opening scene to the final bow the audience is laughing. The play isn’t serious and doesn’t take itself seriously and for that reason it does not cease to entertain.
To younger generations theatre is synonymous with boring drama, the overplayed emotion of a bad cable show without any of the bloody special effects. If more plays were like "The Beaux’ Stratagem" that perception would change. Live comedy, when done right, is unlike anything else and "The Beaux’ Stratagem" proves that.
"The Beaux’ Stratagem" plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Creative Arts Center’s Gladys G. Davis Theatre and again Dec. 1-6. For more information visit http://theatre.wvu.edu.