She Stoops to Conquer
nytheatre.com review by Jane Titus
July 18, 2009
[Editor's Note: If you need to review the plot of She Stoops to Conquer, read this article (unfortunately with spoilers!]
This is the inaugural production for this theatre group and from what I saw the New York theatre community can expect good things to come. This young company takes on Goldsmith's classic 18th century comedy She Stoops to Conquer and does an excellent job of presenting this gem in an updated setting. I believe they've updated the play to the mid-20th century but they've left the costumes non-specific enough that it could be today. The venue the show is presented in is a lovely non-traditional space in Carroll Gardens. The audience sits on two sides of a long hall in a few rows of chairs. The set is limited to four chairs and a table. The natural architecture of the room becomes the set and we are sitting in the parlor or inn or living room as needed. The direction of the piece moves things along nicely, with each scene leading directly into the next.
The acting is alive and specific. The company describes the show as actor-driven and I would have to agree with them. They are all around a talented, trained group of actors with a lot of potential. A particular standout in the company is Drew Hirshfield as Mr. Marlow. Hirshfield finds the right mixture of arrogance and timidity that is needed for the character and keeps his work clean and connected while making these huge shifts. Bravo, Mr. Hirshfield! The rest of the company is lovely, Ann Farrar as Miss Hardcastle is charming and Caitlin Talbot and Kevin Dedes play their roles with a lovely verve.
Malinda Sorci has directed the piece with a real eye for the comic potential and the pacing is lively. Her cutting of the text to a 90-minute single sitting keeps the story clear and moving. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the text done in an American accent. It does not suffer from the translation across the pond in the least. The only jarring note is that when the servants or lower-class characters speak they assume British working-class accents. Since the play has been translated to the US, it would have been interesting to hear American working class accents. I do believe this cast has the training and are fully capable of assuming different American accents.
The actors playing the mature roles in the show are lovely and really do an excellent job. I could not help but wish to see actors of the appropriate ages playing the parental characters. I realize that in the theatre community as any community, it is hard sometimes to bridge the gap between the generations, but I think the final polish on this lovely production would have been actors of the appropriate ages to play the older roles. That being said, Colleen Harris as Mrs. Hardcastle, Peter Allen Stone as Mr. Hardcastle, and David Gross as Diggory and Sir Charles Marlow are warm and committed in their work.
Jay Randall as Tony Lumpkin has some very funny turns. I could not help but wonder exactly what kind of boor Randall was going to develop with the character of Tony Lumpkin. Enticingly near is a contemporary twist that Lumpkin is actually gay and therefore completely uninterested in his cousin as a suitable match. Unfortunately this possibility is hinted at but never fully developed.
Chelsea White, designing the entire show, had her work cut out for her. She was very resourceful and did a great deal with very little. To design an 18th century comedy that depends on how people look on an off-off-Broadway budget is no easy task and White rose to the challenge well.