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Production Poster by Sandi McDonald
Although in some ways the unofficial kickoff to the fall theatre season goes to the Vancouver Fringe Festival, the real trendsetter is United Players, which opens its first show first thing in September. And that show also often marks the distinctiveness of UP’s programming. This year’s opener is a rarely produced 18th century comedy (how many 18th century comedies are ever produced here?), George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem, done straight with a twist or three in Kathleen Duborg’s entertaining production.
The central plot involves two down-on-their-luck young London gentlemen, Archer (Gregory Radzimowski) and Aimwell (Darcy Stobbe), who come to the provinces in disguise, hoping to snare some rich young thing in marriage and split the profits. They’re rogues all right, but good-natured and more ethical than not as it turns out, and they will be snared by love themselves. They’ll also benefit from some deus-ex-machinesque pennies from heaven that will enable the obligatory happy ending.
The men in this play are altogether a pretty sad lot: the crooked innkeeper Boniface (Andre Fex, who also plays a funny French priest), who would willingly pimp his daughter Cherry (Madelyn Osborne); the highwayman Gloss, who aspires to become a clergyman (David Newham); and especially Sullen (Michael Wild), a disgusting drunk who smashes furniture and degrades his lovely wife.
The women rule, especially with the slick feminist twists Duborg has given the script. Ministering to the sick in the parish, Sullen’s mother, cheerful Lady Bountiful (Elizabeth McLaughlin), kills half of them but does so with an absurdly delicious cluelessness. Her pretty daughter Dorinda (Olivia Sara Grace) will join with Sullen’s tough-minded wife Kate (Jessica Wagstaff)—this production’s central character and spokeswoman—to take up swords against their would-be robbers, and the two of them along with Cherry will live happily and wealthily ever after.
Amid a range of comic performances Wagstaff and McLaughlin stand out, along with Newham and Wild. The best joke in the piece has to do with men, oxen, morons and oxymorons, and may very well be Duborg’s work rather than Farquhar’s.
Todd R. Parker’s handsome open set stands in nicely for a tavern, the Bountiful mansion and everywhere else. Amira Routledge’s period costumes are far handsomer than what anyone should expect from a company with such small budgets.
Year after year, show after show, United Players continues to punch above its weight. The Beaux’ Stratagem may be more a split decision than a knockout but it’s definitely a winner.