Chaste Makes Waste
Credibility undercuts She Stoops to Conquer's cartoonish characters' hot blooded nature.
Thursday, May 17, 2001
Oliver Goldsmith''s She Stoops to Conquer is a historically interesting bit of theater. It was first produced in 1773, a couple years after the Boston Tea Party and some 13 years into the reign of George III, who had been exhibiting some signs of his madness for about eight years. It was a time when people had some serious doubts about the fitness of the aristocracy. As a work of theater, the play is a throwback to the restoration comedies that were popular a century earlier.
At the same time, She Stoops foreshadows the works of Oscar Wilde, another Irish writer who took joy in skewering the upper classes a century after this piece was produced. There''s not a trace of sentiment as the play rolls lightly along, taking deadly aim at the ruling classes.
And therein lies the problem with the production currently playing Monterey Peninsula College''s mainstage. Although it''s heresy to say such a thing in the 21st century, the characters are almost too believable. Where the script calls out for cartoonish characters that lampoon the foibles of the upper classes, Tom Humphrey''s direction burdens them with a patina of credibility that seems to slow the production down, working at cross purposes to the script. Then, too, the program notes make particular note of the play''s racy dialogue and bawdy, hot-blooded nature--but the characters in this production seem almost chaste.
As in all comedies of manners, She Stoops is not so much based on depth of characterization as on the situation and the rash actions of the characters who transform the proceedings into a madhouse. Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle (Ron Cohen and Connie Erickson) have three young charges: their daughter (Miss Hardcastle), Tony Lumpkin (Mrs. Hardcastle''s son by a previous marriage), and Miss Neville (a cousin to Miss Hardcastle). Mr. H, looking for a suitable suitor for his daughter has invited the son of his old friend Sir Marlowe to visit. Young Marlowe arrives with his friend Hastings, who is in love with Miss Neville.
Complicating matters is the fact that, while young Marlowe (Greg Falge) has no problem romancing barmaids or farm girls, he''s tongue-tied when it comes even to conversing with women of higher birth. Besides that, Mrs. Hardcastle has ordained that Miss Neville (Suzanne Dawn Terry) should marry Lumpkin (Ryan F. Schwartzman). Topping it all off, Marlowe and Hastings (Joseph Thomas), have been deceived by Lumpkin into believing that the Hardcastles'' home is a country inn--and proceed to treat everyone accordingly. While the young men''s boorish behavior offends the elder Hardcastles, it enables Miss Hardcastle (Anne Hoffman) to disguise herself as the inn''s barmaid--and thus stooping, she conquers young Marlowe''s heart.
Of course, despite the mistaken identities, outraged parents and Lumpkin''s never-ending pranks, by play''s end, everyone--we presume--lives happily ever after.
Within the context of the earlier criticism, this production boasts many fine performances, most notably those of Falge as young Marlowe the suitor and Hoffman as Miss Hardcastle. Their first scene together, when Marlowe is too shy to look at her (thus setting up her later ruse) and stutters his way through a painful conversation while she coyly baits him, is both hilarious and touching. Erickson, as Mrs. Hardcastle, too, has some nice moments.
While William Strom''s set is gorgeous to look at, creating a sort of proscenium within the stage''s proscenium, the thick walls are painted a sort of light adobe color that somehow seems more Mediterranean than English. (And one wonders why the functional balconies built into the set are never used again once they disgorge the actors at the beginning of the play.)
Anne Scanlon''s costumes sparkle with color and detail, bustles and brocade, and her wonderfully hideous choice of dresses for Mrs. Hardcastle drew an appropriate response from the audience.
She Stoops to Conquer plays Thursday (7pm), Friday-Saturday (8pm), and Sunday (2pm) through May 20 on the Morgan Stock Stage in the MPC Theater, located at 980 Fremont in Monterey. Tickets cost $20/general, $15/seniors, $10/children. For reservations or more info, call 646-4213.