‘The Beaux’ Strategem’ offers ye olde laughs

Cherry (Allie Bonesho) argues with her father, innkeeper Boniface (J. Pat Cahill). Photo by Cy Kondrick/cy.kondrick@marquette.edu

Beaux. n, pl. Men who escort or pay attention to a lady.

Stratagem. n. A plan, scheme, or trick for surprising or deceiving an enemy.

“The Beaux’ Stratagem.” n. Hilarious 18th century comedy about two scoundrels who find true love. Now playing at Marquette’s Helfaer Theatre through Nov. 21.

The Marquette Department of Performing Arts’ classical pick of the year, “The Beaux’ Stratagem” was first written and produced by George Farquhar in 1707. The play is one of the last comedies written during the English Restoration period, characterized by baudy and sexually explicit humor.

American playwright Thornton Wilder began adapting it into a more modern piece in 1939, but died before he could finish. In the late ’90s, Wilder’s estate asked playwright Ken Ludwig to complete the adaptation, which premiered in 2006 at The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.

“The Beaux’ Stratagem” is set in the English countryside village of Lichfield, where recently penniless gentlemen Jack Archer (John Gallagher) and Thomas Aimwell (Tim Braun) arrive in search of wealthy women to marry, restoring their fortunes.

As part of their subterfuge, Archer poses as a servant to his “master” Aimwell, a disguise designed to help them impress potential wives. At local Boniface’s Inn, the pair learns that Lady Bountiful (Kirsten Benjamin), a local healer, has a beautiful daughter named Dorinda (Kelsey Lehn) with a large dowry, and decides to make her their target.

But there are two complications they haven’t counted on: a roaming band of thieves that threatens the town, and true love. Aimwell ends up actually falling for Dorinda, and Archer is enraptured by the innkeeper’s daughter, Cherry (Allie Bonesho).

Kirsten Benjamin, a senior in the College of Communication, said the play’s mischief offers something for everyone in the audience.

“It’s done in a way that the humor will appeal to students,” Benjamin said. “Even though it’s a comedy, there are so many other elements involved that people will be able to relate to.”

Director Maureen Kilmurry said the Department of Performing Arts tries to include a classical piece in its season every year. According to Kilmurry, “The Beaux’ Stratagem” distinguishes itself from other plays they might have chosen because of its brand of comedy.

“[Though] the style of the comedy is very specific … it certainly applies to modern comedies with the same rhythm,” Kilmurry said.

To create this rhythm, Kilmurry said, requires completely different skills than is necessary in other plays. She said the play’s comedy relies on the proper delivery of lines, as well as accurately timed movements and the individual comedic flare of the characters.

Kilmurry said the actors embraced the challenge of this period piece, which features 18th century costumes and language.

When adapting a classical piece to current times, she said, most actors have the tendency to try to modernize the lines and “make it their own.” But this play required them to stick to the language as it was spoken in the time period, and, making matters more difficult, each actor also had a different English accent to practice, depending on their character’s social class.

“It’s a really fun period once you get used to how different the people dressed and behaved,” Kilmurry said. “(The play) is very accessible to modern audiences, yet you can still get a feel for the time period and the types of plays that were popular then.”

Tim Braun, a junior in the College of Communication, said the piece has something new to offer the Marquette audience because it’s more than just a play — it’s also a learning experience.

According to Braun, “The Beaux’ Stratagem” incorporates literature and history into the story while also teaching the audience what they have in common with the people of 18th century England.

“It shows them how they can relate to (the play) as a modern audience,” Braun said. “It has a lot of the same humor, and the characters go through some of the same things we do nowadays.”

Kilmurry said one of the major themes found in the play is the concept of divorce. Considering that the now-accepted practice was not a legal possibility in 1707, she said, it’s fascinating that this idea is used in a pervasive way.

“It sounds weird for a comedy, but it works,” Kilmurry said.

Because of this, Kilmurry said she anticipates the audience will fully appreciate the show. She said she knew “The Beaux’ Stratagem” could accomplish something meaningful even after her first read-through of the script.

“I laughed out loud when I was reading it, which doesn’t happen a lot with period pieces,” she said. “That’s the way we decided to go — with the laugh-out-loud factor.”

“The Beaux’ Stratagem” will be playing at the Helfaer Theatre Nov. 11 to 14 and Nov. 17 to 21. Evening shows start at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees start at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for students, $16 for seniors, alumni and employees, and $20 general admission. For tickets, contact the Helfaer Theatre Box Office in person, via phone at 414-288-7504 or online at  theatretickets.marquette.edu.

Dorinda (right, Jennifer Mitchell) gossips with her sister-in-law (left, Kelsey Lehn). Photo by Cy Kondrick/cy.kondrick@marquette.edu