Who: Red Bull Theater company
What: Livestreamed benefit reading of Hannah Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem
Where: Red Bull Theater website and Facebook Live
When: Monday, February 22, free with RSVP (donations accepted), 7:30 (available on demand through February 26 at 7:00); Bull Session, February 25, free with RSVP, 7:30
Why: In her plan “Staging the 18th-Century Prostitute for the 21st-Century: A Dramaturgical Approach to Teaching Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem,” professor Melinda C. Finberg wrote of Hannah Cowley’s 1780 work, “While The Belle’s Stratagem is set firmly in the fashionable society of late-eighteenth-century London, and its style is reminiscent of Cowley’s Restoration and Augustan predecessors, Cowley’s comedy demonstrates concerns about the laboring classes and their relationship to the moneyed elite. The title of Cowley’s comedy pays homage to one of her favorite Augustan playwrights, George Farquhar (1677-1707), and his The Beaux’s Stratagem (1707), and like many of these earlier comedies, The Belle’s Stratagem juxtaposes two story lines: Letitia Hardy’s ingenious plot to win the heart of her betrothed, Doricourt, against the marital problems of jealous Sir George Touchwood and his wife, the naïve Lady Frances. Both plots concern men learning to respect the women in their lives both before and after marriage, and are further connected by questions regarding the nature and fluidity of identity. Interwoven with these plots are transitional scenes among servants, tradesmen, and con artists who make their livings off the excesses of fashionable life.”
You can find out how relevant the play still is when Red Bull presents a benefit reading of The Belle’s Stratagem on February 22 at 7:30, directed by Gaye Taylor Upchurch and starring Cecil Baldwin, Jasmine Batchelor, Mark Bedard, Neal Bledsoe, Lilli Cooper, Peter Jay Fernandez, Santino Fontana, Tony Jenkins, Lauren Karaman, Aaron Krohn, Heather Alicia Simms, and Chauncy Thomas. The reading will be available on demand through February 26 at 7:00. On February 25 at 7:30, a live Bull Session on the play, which was advertised back in the day as “A Variety of Serious and Comic Songs,” will feature Upchurch, scholar Dustin D. Stewart, and members of the cast discussing the work and Cowley, who decided to take up playwrighting after a “dull night at the theater” and was involved in a professional rivalry with Hannah More (Percy, The Search after Happiness).