The Players Club of Swarthmore, a community theatre, built in 1911 and around a 20-minute walk from Swarthmore College, attracts large audiences and offers a wide variety of plays, ranging from musicals to dramas. With three hundred seats in the mainstage studio and an eighty-seat black-box theatre for second stage, the club puts forth great effort to have a show for everyone. It recently featured George Farquhar’s comedy “The Beaux’ Strategem” on Jan. 6 and the play is slate to run until Jan. 21.
In “The Beaux’ Strategem”, Tom Aimwell and Jack Archer are two young men suffering from broken fortune. In order to marry heiresses to gain wealth, Aimwell pretend to be a master to his servant Archer. However, during the time of their cheating and disguising the two men fall in love with the daughter of Lady Bountiful, Dorinda, and her sister-in-law, Mrs. Kate Sullen, respectively. This affection leads to the confession of their true identities.
“The Beaux’ Strategem” is a comedy written in 1707 that has since experienced several rounds of adaptation and restyling. George Mulford, the director of the show, describes in the playbill how certain assumptions would certainly have brought laughs in 1707, but lose their effectiveness in contemporary times. For instance, “Frenchmen are cowardly; all Irishmen duplicitous, and all servant women fair game for a gentleman’s dalliance,” Mulford wrote. However, in Mulford’s eyes, the update by Thornton Wilder and his son Ken Ludwig is very successful in translating humor for the modern audience.
“I am always looking for comedies,” Mulford stated, “because plays of quality tend not to be comedies.” The adaptations mentioned above were used for the production of the show. It deleted the archaic parts and kept the nature of the characters and the delightful, mocking and derisive tone of the original, which Mulford believes is valuable to show to the audience. “I want the audience to laugh.”
Conveying a sense of humour is the center of the whole performance. The performers’ understanding of the characters, the show and the comedy as a whole enables them to bring comic effects to the show. Lady Bountiful, a country gentlewoman who is foolishly fond of her son, is played by Janean Clare, a long-time member of the Club. Clare described her character as possibly a “medical quack,” but Clare finds that Lady Bountiful “firmly believes she’s doing well. She is sincere but you can see what she thinks of herself and what others think of her are different. That’s where the comedy comes in.”
Other plays are also set to be performed at the Players Club. “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” which will be showed from February 10 to 25, is a musical comedy with lyrics by Joe Dipietro and music by Jimmy Roberts. As the play’s tagline describes, its main themes of love and relationships demonstrate “everything you have ever secretly thought about dating, romance, marriage, lovers, husbands, wives and in-laws, but were afraid to admit.”
According to the club’s history on its website, Dr. Andrew Francis Jackson, one of the early members of the club who directed and wrote plays and tableaux, describes the Clubs members as “all a little bit crazy.” Even today, this quote still echoes around the Club.
Jim Carroll, one of the many directors, offers his understanding of this saying. “We are a little bit crazy because of the fact that we can’t help ourselves doing it. It’s like in addiction. We are always very busy and we come here and volunteer in our free time, at night or on weekends.” Almost all the members are volunteers and perform as an expression of their passions toward theater.
Anna Wilson is an audience member who attends every show done by the Club and also used to work as a volunteer along with her husband. She explained why she is so fond of theatre. “I think about Shakespeare’s words that all life is a stage, we are only players. And if I do it long enough, if I pretend long enough, what I want to be real can become real.”
Carroll agreed with Ms. Wilson’s feelings on how theater connects with daily life. “It’s kind of like every aspect of life. It’s like a life profession. And also, it always changes. It’s not like a regular job and you do the same thinwgs everyday,” Carroll said about theater. “You work on a show and show ends, then you stop and you start again from the bottom of another show with new cast people and a new group. And that structure is always different. It’s constantly changing and it’s about constantly meeting people. It’s really a lot fun.”
As for the future of the Club, Carroll believes with the high level sets, costumes and acting, it will continue to thrive as a theater of high quality. “There are very good people who continue to come and we get younger ones that replace the older ones. They bring in new life and new ideas to the theater. I believe that will carry through the next hundred years.”