The Belle's Stratagem, British playwright Hannah Cowley's 18th-century comedy of manners, marks the final opening of the summer for the American Players Theatre (APT). In a lighthearted end to APT's season, Marcus Truschinski plays Doricourt, a man betrothed to a woman he hasn't seen since childhood, Letitia Hardy (Colleen Madden). After meeting Letitia again as adults, Doricourt fears that he is engaged to an intolerably timid woman and promptly tries to find a way out of the marriage. When Doricourt's intentions become clear, Letitia works to change his mind through trickery that involves an elaborate masquerade party.
As one would expect from this type of play, numerous subplots decorate the folly of Letitia and Doricourt. The most interesting of these elements involves the plight of the Touchwoods. Lady Frances Touchwood (Carrie A. Coon) is a country girl who wants to enter fashionable society, but her comically conservative husband (Jonathan Smoots) fears that this will corrupt her and damage their relationship.
Cowley's story is a great deal of fun, and APT admirably brings that revelry to the stage. Robert Morgan's costuming is particularly impressive. Given a costumer's dream of designing outfits for an elaborate 18th-century masquerade, Morgan takes full advantage of the opportunity. Of particular note is the costuming for the flamboyant Flutter (Darragh Kennan), who boasts the most visually striking appearance that APT has put on stage all year. Scenic designer Junghyun Georgia Lee provides a delightfully surreal backdrop with a series of ornate, gold picture frames that light up beautifully at night.
The female characters own many of the play's best moments. But while The Belle's Stratagem has plenty of sophisticated wit, the social commentary isn't as accomplished. Cowley's comedy, written in 1780, satirizes the trappings of wealthy society, but it lacks the inventiveness and bite that Oscar Wilde would add a century later.
The American Players Theatre's production of The Belle's Stratagem runs through Oct. 3.