Summer stock

The pleasantly diverting Beaux’ Strategem
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  July 9, 2008

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THE LOOK OF LOVE: Sorensen and Boghigian.

As much as sin rankled the Puritans when they came to power, hypocrisy — societal, personal, sexual — was the target of Restoration Comedy for twice as long after the prigs were driven out in 1660. One of the last of those social satires, George Farquhar’s 1707 The Beaux’ Stratagem, is on stage at 2nd Story Theatre (through July 26), demonstrating that England still hadn’t run out of phonies to skewer by then.

The play itself is so hastily constructed that Farquhar himself apologized for its unpolished quality, written in illness — he died two months after it premiered. The 2nd Story troupe roasts all of the chestnuts here in fine style, clichéd characters deliciously recognizable.

It’s a familiar story, with two roguish young gentlemen of flexible conscience coming to town to wive it wealthily, as the Bard put it. As tricky as they are, they are tricked in return, but by the end everyone learns their lesson and both marry for love. (For requisite happy endings, Restoration playwrights got a pass on being keen social observers.)

The two young men down on their luck are Aimwell (Tom Bentley) and Archer (an especially earnest Ara Boghigian). They’ve spent their wealth with their friends in the city. Now they have come to the country with their last 200 pounds, intending to take turns pretending to be the other’s servant, the better to impress the locals.

In condensing more than three hours down to two, including intermission, director Ed Shea has killed off the landlord of the tavern where they stay, giving his lines to Widow Boniface (Marg Cappelli). She and her comely daughter Cherry (Laura Sorensen) are in league with the aptly named highwayman Mr. Gibbet (Joe Henderson) and his minions, hoping to rob Aim-well and his purported servant. Cherry complicates those plans by falling in love with Archer.

For his part, Aimwell targets the wealthy Dorinda (Maryellen Brito). At first he intends to pretend to be enraptured by the beauty of any likely young victim at a church service, but despite himself he is actually smitten. Her mother, Lady Bountiful (Joan Batting), comes fully into play oddly late in this abbreviated version of the play, but she makes up in haughtiness what she lacks in duration.

The other principal characters are Mrs. Sullen (Joanne Fayan), Dorinda’s sister-in-law, and Squire Sullen (Mark Gentsch), who dislikes his wife as much as she does him. (Mrs. S.: “Spouse!” The squire: “Rib!”) Archer and Mrs. Sullen fall for each other, a complication for a lady of honor — the only sort worth having, even in libidinous Restoration days — since the squire is still in the picture. Farquhar’s last-scene solution is a Hail Mary pass, but it’s good for the goal.

With a stage-groaning cast of 16, there are plenty of characters to make fun of. My personal favorites, at the risk of being accused of promoting Freedom Fries, are the two Frenchmen. Jonathan Jacobs is Count Bellair, an officer and ingratiating opportunist who wields a silver tongue as adroitly as he would a fencing foil, were he permitted to use one. As Shea explained on opening night, captured officers were allowed the run of the town they were assigned to and could socialize freely with townsfolk. Entertaining mainstay Tom Roberts not only gets to put on a bullfrog-heavy Franch accent as Father Foigard, a womanizing French army chaplain, but also gets to bleat as a stage Irishman when the man’s false identity is discovered and he is threatened with hanging.

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