The evolution of “The Beaux’ Stratagem,” the Restoration comedy penned by George Farquhar in 1707, may be as interesting as the play itself. Farquhar, who married a supposedly rich widow and therefore became responsible for her sizable debts, took inspiration from “The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce,” the 1644 tract arguing for its legalization in England by the unhappily married poet John Milton, of all people.
A minor classic in Britain, “Stratagem” had been relatively neglected in the United States, prompting a Broadway producer to ask playwright Thornton Wilder to adapt it in 1939. Wilder abandoned the project half-completed. In 2000, Wilder’s nephew Tappan discovered the manuscript in the Yale library. In 2004, he asked Ken Ludwig to complete the adaptation, which premiered in Washington, D.C. in 2006.
The current Schiller Park production by Actors’ Theatre of Columbus brings to life this story of two impoverished young men on the prowl for rich women to marry. Shakespeare it isn’t, but “Stratagem” boasts many a witty turn of phrase and several delightfully stinging passages of rapid-fire dialogue. Wilder and Ludwig have clearly injected some modern bite, even a feminist flavor, into this 300-year-old play.
Philip J. Hickmam’s faux servant Jack Archer and Jesse Massaro’s mock master Tom Aimwell fall hard, respectively, for Beth Josephsen’s Kate Sullen and Arielle Giselle Rogers’ Dorinda. Mark Hale, Jr. does a nice turn as Kate’s inebriated and neglectful husband Sullen. Cornelius Hubbard, Jr. as Kate’s brother saves the day at the end, helping to tie everything up in a tight beaux.