Beaux Strategem by George Farquhar is about two greedy and recently broke men who plan to seduce heiresses to steal their fortune. The main characters are Aimwell and Archer who pose as a well-to-do gentleman and his manservant. The cast of characters include: Aimwell, Archer, Count Bellair a French officer, prisoner at Litchfield, Sullen a country blockhead, brutal to his wife, Freeman a gentleman from London, Foigard a priest, chaplain to the French officers, Gibbet a high-way-man, Houslow, his companions, Bagshot, Boniface the landlord of the inn, Scrub a servant to Mr. Sullen, Lady Bountiful an old civil country gentlewoman, that cures all her neighbours of all distemper, Dorinda Lady Bountiful's daughter, Mrs. Sullen her daughter-in-law, Gipsy maid to the ladies. The 2013 production is directed by Adam Simon and keeps quick pace and crisp dialogue to allow this latest production breathe new life to a 200+ year old play.
While I was in the audience, everyone was focused on the actors, smiling with wide eyes as they witnessed a unique and amusingly transparent look into the lives of the characters, especially Philip J. Hickman's character, Jack Archer, who boldly displayed his beguiling yet complex personality that both appalls, yet invites the viewer. Which brings up the question of was it worth it the expense? In all honesty I thought an old British play would be dull, filled with colorful language, but not much else. I was pleasantly surprised while watching the interplay between the characters that it changed my opinion. It was hilarious to watch Hickman's portrayal of a confident Jack and Massaro's care-free and foolish Tom and their lack of realization, that everyone can see through their aristocratic shtick of master and servant, particularly the women.
Jack Archer was the foundation of the play and Hickman who portrayed the character did an excellent job of using the lines to represent what some who have only read the play could not see. And that is the lack of awareness and sheer brevity that only seeing in a play could impart. His tone of voice, full of wonder and wishful thinking was a strong representation of what Farquhar tried to put forth in his work. People instantly knew what they were going to get as soon as he finished. In fact a lot of the play centers on the playful interaction between Archer and Aimwell.
The social theme presented in the play is escaping marriage. This theme, dear to Farquhar himself is seen through Mrs. Sullen, an unhappily married woman and Archer's love for her as a means of escpae. In Britain at the time, marriage was seen as inescapable and no matter what, one could not divorce or commit adultery. When one married, one became trapped. This was true for Farquhar as he looked for a well off single woman to marry and to his dismay ended up with a penniless wife with whom he had to pay off debt from. Overall it is a very subtle and comedic look into the lives of outlandish people who possess ideas of grandeur and float into a reality that both allows it and destroys it.
With that, I agreed with the play's message of escape mainly because marriage should be considered an option one can opt out of more than a binding contract. During the end we see Aimwell confessing to Dorinda of his impoverished status and Archer helping Mrs. Sullen divorce Mr. Sullen. The ending then concluding with the two main characters acquiring both love and money amidst an unlikely "escape." Farquhar in writing this final scene perhaps wished to do what his characters did and leave a toxic marriage that made him want to abandon that which made him worse for wear.
In regards to the characters, the protagonists are Tom, Jack, Dorinda and Mrs. Sullen. Their motivations are all different and change throughout the play. Tom wanted like Jack, to seduce and marry a wealthy single woman. He fell in love with Dorinda and then wanted to confess his current financial status instead of lie to her. Jack, at first looking for a single, rich lady, ended up falling in love with a married woman who he was motivated to acquire a divorce for.
Dorinda, although not as major a protagonist as Tom had the motivation of love. Even though she found out of the status of Tom, still wanted to marry him regardless. Mrs. Sullen, the carrier of the "escape marriage" theme was motivated to leave her marriage and be with a man she truly loved. It was through her love for Jack that she got her wish and release from her unhappy marriage.
The antagonist is Mr. Sullen and his motivation of keeping the Sullen fortune. He was the obstacle for Jack and Mrs. Sullen. He was also the foil in that if he succeeded in keeping the fortune or not allowing the divorce, Jack would have remained penniless although Dorinda and Tom's marriage provided him with a 10,000 pound share. Mr. Sullen is the driving force behind Mrs. Sullen wanting to escape because they shared a loveless marriage. If it were not for her actions, the other two protagonists would have been able to get married well before Tom and Dorian's wedding.
The motivations for the antagonist and protagonists make sense due in part to theme of the play because they long to do something that would greatly benefit themselves. Jack and Mrs. Sullen's desire to be happy, but also escape an impossible situation lends a conflict that provides motivation for the antagonist. Mr. Sullen does not want to lose the fortune he earned through marriage.
The primary conflict between the antagonist and protagonist was Jack's desire to have Mrs. Sullen. Jack wanted the money and the wife. The most effective actor was Phillip J. Hickman purely for the delivery of performance. He was the strongest of the actors in his voice and comedic timing. He displayed well his emotions for Mrs. Sullen at the same time the hope and splendor of a young boy. His interaction with the cast, especially with Jesse Massaro was the best part of the play. His use of gestures and winks all helped in making the character come alive.
The least effective actor was Jesse Massaro simply because he was more of an accessory to Hickman or the actress who played Dorian than his own character. I know his character is in essence, a side kick, but there could have been more personality injected into his performance. In the original play, Tom is a passionate lover. In this remake, the actor fails to show that passion, but rather focuses on the comedic component.
Phillip J. Hickman is quite different to his character in that he isn't a homewrecker, living off the money of others. He does what he loves and earns money from it. Looking at some recent interviews he's done and reading up on his biography, he appears to be an independent and moral man unlike Tom who is the exact opposite. Phillip is what Tom isn't, a realist man.
The set contributed brilliantly to my understanding of the story in that it was simple, focusing more on the actors than the setting. Especially in scenes where the dialogue was heavy, the simple set helped me understand the characters more because my attention was solely focused on them. A great example of this would be with Lady Bountiful's home. In act two, scene one, Mrs. Sullen and Dorinda discuss the possibility of Mrs. Sullen adopting a lover after growing tired of Mr. Sullen's drunken behavior. There was would be a sofa, a simple background, and wooden floors. It helped a lot with enjoy the conversation.
Costumes are often really important, especially if it is a play focused on…