The Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of The Beaux' Stratagem
was written in 1707 by George Farquhar, picked up in the late 1930’s by Thornton Wilder who started a new adaptation and finished only days ago in the rehearsal room by our living playwright, Ken Ludwig.
Developing a new play is hard work – and when you have three playwrights, it doesn’t get any easier. The basic plot of Farquhar’s play remains intact in STC’s production, but when Wilder started his adaptation (he only adapted the first half before getting side-tracked by other projects), he cut some characters, made others much bigger and added new facts and details to the play. These changes raised questions that needed to be resolved in his unwritten second act. Ken Ludwig picked up where Wilder left off and created a second act that he hoped would compliment and complete Wilder’s first.
Over the course of the last two years, the Shakespeare Theatre Company did two readings of The Beaux’ Stratagem
. These readings helped Michael Kahn and Ken Ludwig to rewrite these two separate acts into one play, creating the draft of the script that went into rehearsal in late September. Although Ken worked hard to make Wilder’s first act and his own second act blend together tonally – some of the changes that Wilder made dramatically affected the resolution of Farquhar’s plot. These were hurdles that did not become clear to anyone until the cast was in the rehearsal room, putting the play on its feet.
Within the first week of rehearsal Michael Kahn and the cast discovered that some of the details of who does what to whom and when weren’t adding up.
The first text hiccup that we hit resulted from a change that Thornton Wilder made. Wilder reimagined the amateur doctor Lady Bountiful -- an incidental character in the original -- into a more prominent character who, at the end of the first act, effectively “outs” Archer and Aimwell (the Beaux of the title) as imposters. In Farquhar’s original, the women do not discover that the Beaux are imposters until the final moments of the play. Wilder’s end to Act One now meant that Dorinda and Mrs. Sullen had to fall in love with men who they knew to be rogues and villains. Ken Ludwig had to rewrite the second act to reflect this new knowledge on the part of the women, which in turn made them into much craftier characters.
The next big project was getting rid of any obstacles in the way of the couples’ falling in love. Michael had to make sure that the seed of attraction was planted before the women found out who the men really were. In the first weeks of rehearsal, the first love scene between Archer and Mrs. Sullen seemed so complicated because Mrs. Sullen already knew that Archer wasn’t a footman. This was a problem that seemed almost insurmountable until Michael asked Ken to move just one line (where Archer unwittingly blows his cover to Mrs. Sullen) to the end of the scene; suddenly, Archer and Mrs. Sullen were able to fall in love with ease.
In the last week of rehearsal the script was at a point where the logic of the action was clear but there were still loose ends that needed to be wrapped up. The events of the last scene had to unravel quickly. The audience needed to follow not just the metaphorical fortunes of our characters, but the literal fortunes as well. It was essential to follow the money. Tracing the logical path of the money (even after all of the revisions by Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig) led directly to restoring aspects of the original ending that Farquhar wrote in 1707.
Although The Beaux' Stratagem
is a “classic,” the process of bringing Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig’s adaptation to the stage felt more like working on a brand new, unproduced play.
Merry Alderman, Directorial Assistant on The Beaux’ Stratagem