By: Paulanne Simmons
After the boisterous creativity released by Restoration comedy, English theater sank into the doldrums of sentimental comedy and domestic tragedy prevalent during the 18th century. Few of these plays are revived in modern times, except for Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer. This classic from 1773 is notable for its cutting satire on the upper class and its mating rituals, as well as its extremely witty dialogue. It delights today just as it did over two hundred years ago.
Cynthia Darlow, Tony Lumpkin
The TACT revival, directed by Scott Alan Evans, is pretty faithful to the original. The two major innovations are the decision to have the actors mingle with the audience before the show begins and during intermission, and then seat them on the sides of the stage during the entire production. But don’t be fooled. The TACT production is exciting and vibrant in all of the best theatrical traditions.
Mairin Lee and Jeremy Beck head the cast as Kate Hardcastle and Charles Murrow, the children of upper-class parents who think this will be a perfect match. Unfortunately, Charles is more comfortable with working-class women and tongue-tied with women of his own class. Hence Kate, who for some reason in impressed with this quivering nincompoop, must “stoop to conquer” by pretending to be a maid.
Meanwhile, George Hastings (Tony Roach), Murrow’s friend and companion at the Hardcastle manor, falls for Constance Neville (Justine Salata), the niece of the elder Hardcastle’s second wife (Cynthia Darlow). The only problem is Constance’s aunt, has her heart set on Constance marrying her cousin, Kate’s step-brother, Tony Lumpkin (Richard Thieriot), who, by the way, despises Constance as much as she can’t stand him.
All this intrigue takes place at the Hardcastle manor, which Murrow believes is an inn, thanks to the trickery of Lumpkin, whom he met an inn after getting lost on the way to the manner. This is just one of many misunderstandings.
Although the set is minimal, Tracy Christensen has supplied the cast with sumptuous period costumes. But it is the boisterous, sparkling performances of the cast that make this production as funny and bright as it was when people really did wear waistcoats and hooped skirts.
She Stoops to Conquer ****1/2
runs through Nov. 5 at the Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42 Street, www.tactnyc.org.
Photo: Marileee Solan