October 19, 2016

"She Stoops to Conquer" Falls Too Short

The Anglo-Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith wrote She Stoops to Conquer in 1771 but The Actors Company Theatre's revival of this classic farce works hard to be contemporary. Maybe too hard.

Before each performance, cast members stroll the aisles of the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row, where the show is playing through Nov. 5, striking up conversations with people in the audience. "It's a way to be more interactive," I overhead one actor confiding to two friends who had come out to support him.

It seems that almost every other show wants to be interactive these days. I guess producers think that will lure younger people to their shows. But I'm hoping this is a short-lived trend, particularly when it's gratuitous, as it is here. Cause Goldsmith doesn't need the help. Many of his lines and bits are as funny as when he wrote them.

His tale centers around the wealthy Hardcastles, parents in a blended family who, in keeping with the traditional marriage plot, are overeager to have their children marry well.

They want Mrs. Hardcastle's son Tony to marry their ward Constance, an heiress who is secretly plotting to runaway with the more dashing but not quite as well-off George Hastings.

And they are trying to get Mr. Hardcastle's daughter Kate hooked up with Charles Marlowe, a rich Londoner who also happens to be Hastings' best friend.

It's Marlowe who has the affinity for commoners: society women make him nervous and he feels more comfortable with lower-class types. So Kate, as the title promises, stoops to conquer him by pretending to be a serving girl.

The plot tracks the hijinks employed to get everyone with the right person. And along the way, Goldsmith has a good time poking fun at the pretensions of the gentry.

I'm partial to this kind of silliness. I adored the Red Bull Theater Company's recent production of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The School for Scandal, another late 18th century comedy-of-manners (click here to read my review of that one). But, alas, this production isn't as entertaining as that one was.

And its budget seems to be much less. These actors are dressed in a distractingly motley fashion, as though they were encouraged to search their home closets for anything that looked vaguely 18th century. But the show still has a few pleasures.

That's mainly due to the cast, a mix of vets and newcomers to TACT's resident company. They not only roam the aisles throughout the performance as well as before it but, under Scott Alan Evans' somewhat loose direction, they sing, dance and accompany themselves on instruments, John Doyle-style, all the while giving the impression that they're having a great time.

Although he was a little too frat-boyish for my taste, Richard Thieriot's louche Tony was the crowd favorite the night my friend Jesse and I saw the show. But Jeremy Beck is the true standout. The scenes between his nervous Marlow and Mairin Lee's sly Kate are the show's best—and exactly the kind of interaction I like.

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