There may only be one Colm Feore and only one Festival Theatre at the Stratford Festival, but there are now two solidly winning plays he's acted on at the Festival's jewel in the crown. "The Beaux' Stratagem", which opened August 15, is as opposite a departure as you can get from Feore's other play, "King Lear", which kicked off the 2014 Stratford Festival season. Written by George Farquhar and directed Stratford Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino, "The Beaux' Stratagem" is light, airy and just plain fun to watch, and yet still delivers a good wallop of quality theatre.
There's a plot to "The Beaux' Stratagem", but it's not nearly as important as the characters' interactions with each other. Essentially, though, Archer (Feore) and Aimwell (Mike Shara) are two financially hard-up gentlemen with ulterior motives who decide to roar through the countryside and woo rich women before leaving them behind. Their first stop is Lichfield, home to Mrs. Sullen (Lucy Peacock), her sister-in-law, Dorinda (Bethany Jillard), the missus's husband, Squire Sullen (Scott Wentworth), their servant, Scrub (Gordon S. Miller) and their resident medicine woman, Lady Bountiful (Martha Henry). But first, Archer and Aimwell take up temporary residence at the inn of Boniface (Robert King) and his daughter Cherry (Sara Farb), where the very potent ale causes Aimwell to vaguely resemble the Rockettes kick line.
As Archer and Aimwell romp around on their travels, with the former vying for both Cherry and Mrs. Sullen's affections, while the latter is thrown into a lovestruck apoplexy by Dorinda, "The Beaux' Stratagem" keeps ratcheting up the humour and charm, with Father Foisgard (Michael Spencer-Davis) a big part of that. Cimolino does an excellent job in keeping the play light without making it fluffy, while Feore is an absolute delight to watch. A good actor takes on a role, a great actor becomes a role, and a sublime actor — Feore — makes the audience believe the role was custom-written for them.
While Feore does perform at a noticeably higher level, the rest of the cast more than pulls their weight, too. There are very strong performances all around, and a palpable chemistry only added to that. Whether it's Lady Bountiful brandishing a garden vegetable in an innocently lewd manner, Foisgard nailing the part of the sombre stage Irish persona, Archer and Aimwell rollicking around everywhere or Mrs. Sullen talking about feminism without being preachy, the actors are a sheer delight to watch. Farquhar wrote some sharp, zinging dialogue, and Cimolino shows a deft hand at bringing the playwright's words to life.
Even the set changes are woven into the play and become fun to watch, as the actors whirl around each other in a delicately choreographed fashion and use their characters' personalities to add a nice finishing touch. Watch carefully, and you'll see Scrub flicking his nose one time and offering a flower to a damsel another. It's the little touches that combine to form a great big picture, and the time just flies by.
And it has such a liveliness to it that it makes the perfect complement to the dark and heavy "King Lear", with both directed by Cimolino and playing at the Festival Theatre. There's a saying, "go big or go home", and the Stratford Festival has gone really big without being ostentatious or pretentious, and added quite the exclamation mark to a fine season.
"The Beaux' Stratagem" runs through August 11 at the Festival Theatre. For more information on the play and what else is happening, visit the Stratford Festival's website.