Theater Review: TAG’s The Belle’s Stratagem

Photo: courtesy Laurie Tanoura, The Actors' Group


April 30, 2013

When I went to see TAG – The Actors' Group's production of The Belle's Stratagem last week, I entered with low expectations. It's a parody about marriage, courtship, manners and the role of women in late 18th Century London. The cheesy promotional photo of Shakespearean romance didn’t inspire much confidence.

English dramatist and poet Hannah Cowley wrote this play in response to playwright George Farquhar's 1707 play The Beaux's Stratagem, a story about two young men who try to woo women into marriage for their money.

In The Belle's Stratagem, Letitia Hardy (played by Stephanie Keiko Kong) schemes to win the heart of charming but uninterested Doricourt (played by Jason Kanda) into marriage. Doricourt feels indifferent to British women, after recently traveling to France and Italy ogling over the beautiful women there. Even though Doricourt admits he finds Hardy attractive, he says she lacks "spirit." But Hardy vows to turn her future husband’s “indifference” into “dislike.” In Hardy’s mind, it’s an improvement when Doricourt shows feelings for her, even if it’s hatred! Kanda’s performance is believable. You love him, yet hate him, at the same time.

And then there’s Sir George Touchwood (played by Joe Abraham) who gets jealous when his wife, Lady Frances (played by Victoria Brown-Wilson) leaves the house to explore town with two other women. Lady Frances meets a womanizer who tries to seduce her. Joe Abraham’s performance as Sir George Touchwood was a bit too much for me. However, in his defense, his character was over-the-top and dramatic.

The play is dialogue-heavy with little action, but picks up after intermission. Don't expect flashy special effects, extra props or scene changes. In fact, the set doesn't change even in the masquerade ball scene. There's only a chaise chair and it stays on stage, even though the characters move from one place to the next. But the elaborate, periodic costumes help to set the scene well.

I might not have been expecting much, but I left the play amused and entertained. Though it’s a low-budget production, Jason Kanda’s performance as Doricourt really helped to carry the show. I couldn’t wait to find out if Doricourt would fall for Hardy’s love entrapment. At the end, the actors had me and everyone in the audience falling for the cheesiness and going, “Awww.”

April 19-May 12 (7:30 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays), $20 general admission, $15 seniors (62+), $12 student and military, $12 Thursdays, Dole Cannery Square, 650 Iwilei Rd., Ste. 101,