We Americans may imagine ourselves terribly clever—champions of snaps, slaps, and all manner of “yo’ mama” refrains. But when it comes to cutting remarks, we’re centuries behind our merry English brethren. Take, for example, the words of definitive dandy Beau Brummell when he felt the Prince Regent was slighting him. At a ball given by Lord Alvanley, he approached his host and the prince and quipped, “Alvanley, who’s your fat friend?” Unsurprisingly, this occasioned an abrupt fall from favor. Ron Hutchinson’s Beau Brummel—based on the biography by Ian Kelly, who plays Brummell—is a sort of Rake’s Regress. It finds Brummell exiled in Calais—friendless, penniless, possibly syphilitic, and reduced to one mean suit of clothes.
That’s quite a comedown for a man who once famously took five hours to dress and employed two different glovemakers, one for the fingers, and one for the thumbs. Kelly—pallid and lean—has great fun and no little success playing the man of style in decline. Ryan Early provides able support as the one remaining servant. But the play itself hangs more shapelessly than Brummell would have approved. A predecessor of our own celebrity culture, Brummell was famous for being famous—not for any particular achievement. That’s a troublesome state to capture onstage, particularly when that fame has passed. Brummell whiles the time away in preening and reminiscence, but there’s no action to speak of. Brummell moans, “Dear God, what is the point of existence if it is not to be seen?” While we sympathize, we can’t help wishing he’d do something worth watching. Alexis Soloski