Nov. 16 2011 12:00 AM

Sugar-sweet ‘Stratagem’ is zestfully played, but the fun goes on too long


    Michigan State University’s Department
    of Theatre’s production of “The Beaux’ Stratagem” is a sweet comedy of
    errors that reminds one of Brach’s Neapolitan Sundaes candies found in
    the bulk candy bins. Those colorful coconut-covered chewy candies look
    and taste good at first, but after a while your taste buds have had
    enough sugar and just want some meat.

    The titular two beaux are
    down-on-their-luck gentlemen who have contrived a plan to play master
    and servant, traveling about the country and wooing rich maidens. The
    plan quickly goes awry as the men stop at in inn full of thieves and
    cons. Few fall for their charade, and love complicates matters more.
    Stories ravel and unravel in the complex plot.

    The play is pure eye candy. The set,
    designed by Sarah Pearline, is one of the best ever created for the
    Arena Theatre. Pearline takes full advantage of the small space, using
    just a few versatile set pieces that the characters move in a
    well-choreographed manner. In this way, little time is wasted in making
    scene transitions.

    The already attractive cast is wrapped
    in Eric Franzen’s sumptuous costumes, topped with period wigs, courtesy
    of Heather Fleming. The only shortcoming in the visual presentation is
    the landlord Boniface’s balding cap, which doesn’t quite blend in with
    actor Steven Mallory’s natural skin tone. This is only a slight
    distraction: Mallory’s acting overshadows this minor flaw.

    Audiences that have difficulty
    understanding Shakespeare’s romantic comedies will find this play much
    more accessible. Adapted by Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig, this
    version of George Farquhar’s 1707 play bridges the gap between the
    Bard’s language and our own.  

    Still, the shortcomings of the genre
    persist. The biggest is that the plot is overly complicated, with
    multiple characters planning multiple machinations, often with unclear
    motivation. With the addition of minor characters and subplots that
    exist to make social commentary, the play clocks in at over two hours.  

    Fortunately, the cast is solid. Wes
    Haskell is a delight as Archer, who is quite the ladies man. He first
    woos Cherry (Andrea Miller), the landlord’s daughter. Their flirtations
    are spirited and fun.

    Archer has more of a challenge with Kate (Caitlyn
    Knisely), the wife of the drunken country squire Sullen. Stuck in a
    loveless marriage, Kate falls easily for Archer’s mannered charms.
    Still, as a true lady she resists his advances while married. Knisely
    plays the trapped wife well, lashing out at her mother-in-law and
    husband with such dignity and class that they often don’t realize that
    she is insulting them.

    Edward O’Ryan turns in another fine
    performance as highwayman/preacher Gloss. O’Ryan imbues this man of
    dubious character with such complexity that the audience feels for him
    when Cherry rebuffs his advances.

    In this season of sex scandals, “The
    Beaux’ Stratagem” is a nice option for wiling away a few hours. While
    bordering on cloying, its goofy sweetness assures us that all’s well that ends well.

    ’The Beaux’ Stratagem’

    Michigan State University Theater

    Auditorium Arena Theatre

    7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17; 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18, and Saturday, Nov. 19; 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20

    $13; $10 for students

    (800) WHARTON

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