Frank Galati’s 1990 stage adaptation of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath, Sarah Ruhl’s 2003 take on Eurydice, and now Ken Ludwig and Thornton Wilder’s 2006 adaptation of The Beaux Stratagem…  Has A Noise Within ever had as contemporary (and 2013 audience-friendly) a season as the three plays now in rep at their Pasadena digs?

BS399-1024x735 Now for those of you who might be wondering how Wilder managed to collaborate with Ludwig, the former having died when the latter was barely into his twenties and not yet one of our premier farceurs, it turns out that their uproariously funny adaptation of George Farquhar’s three-centuries-old Restoration comedy is one begun by Wilder in 1939 and completed by Ludwig some sixty-seven years later at the request of Wilder’s estate, making it a decidedly unique creative collaboration, and every bit as hilarious as Ludwig’s Leading Ladies, Lend Me A Tenor, or Moon Over Buffalo.

Freddy Douglas and last night’s understudy Caleb Mayo play Tom Aimwell and Jack Archer, a swashbucklingly handsome pair of early 18th Century rakes who have made it their aim to marry into money. Alternately pretending to be master and servant, these devilish rakes have been traveling from town to town in search of the girl (or girls) of their dreams when at last they meet the comely young Dorinda (Malia Wright) and her beautiful sister-in-law Kate (Abby Craden).

BS374-1024x819 Given that it’s love at first sight for Tom with Dorinda and Jack with Kate, their latest stop would seem to answer their dreams in duplicate … were it not for a number of annoying complications.

First of all, Kate is legally hitched, albeit unhappily so, to her souse of a husband Sullen (Robertson Dean). Add to that a series of complications involving Sullen and Dorinda’s medical quack of a mother Lady Bountiful (Deborah Strang), a highway robber named Gloss (Time Winters) posing by day as a man of the cloth, cagey innkeeper Boniface (Apollo Dukakis) and his foxy daughter Cherry (Alison Elliott), and the arrival of Kate’s brother Sir Charles Freeman (Joel Swetow) from London and a pair of larcenous highwaymen named Hounslow and Bagshot (Luke Peckinpaugh and Jesse Peri) from who knows where and you’ve got a recipe for one rollicking romp of a Restoration comedy as seen through 20th and 21st Centuries eyes.

Under Julia Rodriguez-Elliott’s delightfully deft direction, The Beaux’ Stratagem gives an octet of A Noise Within Resident artists some of their most colorful roles ever, and affords audiences the rare opportunity to see eight ANW treasures onstage at once.

BS237-1024x819 Douglas must surely be having the time of his life as the fabulously foppish Tom, a night-and-day departure from his sophisticated persona and one that the debonair Englishman plays with delicious abandon. The role of Kate allows the always stunning Craden to prove herself one crackerjack comedienne, and as glamorous a laugh-getter as they come. A deliciously over-the-top Strang not only gets to steal scenes right and left as the frighteningly inept physician improbably known as Lady Bountiful, she does so in a season that has her concurrently playing The Grapes Of Wrath’s Ma Joad in as exquisitely stripped-down a performance as she’s given. Alan Blumenfeld (as Scrub), Dukakis, and Swetow give the impeccably fine-tuned performances that have become their stock in trade, while Elliott does some scene-stealing of her own as the saucy, frisky, pretty-as-a-picture Cherry. As for Dean, audiences accustomed to his dramatic work in plays by Chekhov, Miller, Hellman, Shakespeare, and the like will be tickled to death by the comedic brilliance he displays as drunkard-to-end-all-drunkards Sullen, whose punchline-filled riff on women could easily earn him a stand-up gig at The Comedy Store.

BS320-1024x722 Among guest artists, the oh-so versatile Winters gets to play two roles in one this time, and never more uproariously than as self-proclaimed clergyman Foigard, a big-haired gentilhomme who would appear to have learned his accent from John Cleese’s French Taunter (of Monty Python fame). Wright is loveliness personified in her A Noise Within debut as Dorinda, Abigail Marks tickles the funny bone (and then some) as a pair of robust but nameless country women, and Peckinpaugh and Peri get to do their best Pirates Of The Caribbean imitations as a pair of roving bandits.

nm2587281 Finally, diving into the humungous role of Jack Archer with only a few days’ notice, the charismatic Mayo’s flawless star turn easily makes him front-runner for Understudy Performance Of The Year. Letter-perfect mastery of the play’s biggest, flashiest role, terrific chemistry with onstage love interest Craden, stellar swordplay and dance, and the best head of blond hair since Elle Woods’ make the dashingly talented L.A. theater newcomer most definitely one to watch, as well as one that A Noise Within would do well to bring back for future roles.

Ensemble members Jamie Sadd, Mary Regalado, and Seth Freed double as background players and scenery movers in the production’s many scene changes, which Rodriguez-Elliott has cleverly staged as mini-scenes, the better to keep audiences entertained as furniture gets pushed onstage and off.

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Michael C. Smith’s colorful scenic design transforms (thanks to the above trio and their castmates) into the play’s multiple locales, with Meghan Gray’s vibrant lighting and Doug Newell’s jaunty sound design adding to the merriment and mirth onstage. (Watch how Gray’s lighting turns all romantically rosy whenever a made-for-each-other couple lay eyes on each other for the first time.) Angela Balogh Calin’s period costumes and Monica Lisa Sabedra’s hair, makeup, and wigs make this production a visual treat. Kristina Teves gets top marks for her myriad of props (especially Lady Bountiful’s doubtfully effective medical tools). Fight choreographer Ken Merckx once again guarantees A Noise Within audiences some exciting, realistic-looking swordplay. As for the cast’s diverse English accents, credit goes to both actors and dialect coach Nike Doukas.

Kaylen Higgins is stage manager. Gray is production manager, Seth Walter technical director, Maria Uribe head stitcher, Alfonso Ramirez assistant director, Will Cox and Emily Lehrer assistant stage managers, and Akiko Yabushita assistant lighting designer.

Audiences who’ve not yet seen any or all of A Noise Within’s Spring 2013 season have one more month to catch all three in rep. Though I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite, for theatergoers in search of one great big evening (or afternoon) of laughter, there’s no more hilarious a show in Pasadena or its environs than The Beaux’ Stratagem.

A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd, Pasadena.

–Steven Stanley
April 25, 2013
Photos: Craig Schwartz (Photos feature Blake Ellis as Jack Archer)

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