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A CurtainUp Review
She Stoops to Conquer
By Simon Saltzman

Let's face facts. We are all stupid and we sin. -- Prologue
Danielle Ferland and Remak Ramsay
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Plausibility is not a factor in Oliver Goldsmith's 1973 comedy of manners She Stoops to Conquer. Rebellion, however, against the more prevalent vogue at the time for sentimental comedy, however, was a factor for the Irish-born dramatist as was his blatant embrace of artificiality. It is that blatant artificiality that is being respected, under Charlotte Moore's direction, at The Irish Repertory Theater.

This late Restoration farce boldly makes no attempt to engage any of the more realistic conventions that you might otherwise regard as important or obligatory in your theater going experience. But neither does Moore's vision fully initiate the sense of fun and panache from an ensemble that is still struggling to embrace a unified style that would help us succumb to the conceits of this 18th century farce. This classic trifle, in which a lot of nonsensical travails befall two pair of lovers, needs more than grins, grimaces and gingerly executed entrances and exits to keep our interest from flagging.

Our interest is presumably set in motion when eligible bachelor Charles Marlow (Brian Hutchison) is sent off to meet for the first time, as well as to court, a young woman Kate (Danielle Ferland) who his father thinks would make him a good wife. When Kate realizes that Charles has wrongly assumed that her home is an inn and that her father, Mr. Hardcastle (Remak Ramsay), is the innkeeper she decides to play along with his assumption. Unsurprisingly, Charles' inbred attitude about class distinction provokes his most churlish and condescending behavior. More complexity is added when Kate's cousin/companion, Constance (Jennifer Bryan), already betrothed to Mr. Hardcastle's son Tony Lumpkin (Tim Smallwood), becomes the adored object of Marlow's friend Hastings (Tommy Schrider). Ready, willing and eager to manipulate the course of true love is Lumpkin's step-mother, Mrs. Hardcastle (Patricia O'Connell), as is Lumpkin himself. That all involved are consigned to put on a happy face at the end should not come as a surprise.

With few exceptions, the cast's earnest and slightly labored attempt to glide through the 18th century chatter can easily lull you into distraction, especially during Act I. As with all the encrusted artificiality that comes with the territory, it takes a while for all the expository stuff to get put aside so that the plot can get rolling. Through all the complications there are some mostly flimsy and fitful attempts at characterization.

Although she could do with a good deal more energy and eccentricity in her portrayal, O'Connell does well at flaunting her obsession with haute couture. This is , notably expressed in an eye-popping hat and gown of many colors, feathers, laces and frills that looks like a design out of the Ringling Brothers fashion pages rather than a creation by actual designer Linda Fisher (who gets the credit for her otherwise appealing display of 18th century costumes).

As Mr. Hardcastle, Ramsey's face can be seen building up steam over his frustration with a situation that spirals predictably out of control. Ramsey's vibrato-propelled voice, often sounding like he's giving the recitative in a Mozart opera, supplies a lilt to lines that sorely need them. One is hard pressed to be captivated by Hutchison's duplicitous façade as Charles, a victim of the scheming Tony Lumpkin's mischievous intentions. Even considering Charles's bashful nature when confronting women of his own class, Hutchison's approach appears more tentative than comical.

Smallwood sparks Lumpkin, a fashion plate in his own way (check out his bold vest embroidered with red roosters - with a winningly coarsened edge). He, of course, is more of a dolt and the antithesis of Kate, his bright step sister. Ferland, whose delightful performance as Little Red Riding Hood in the original production of Into The Woods remains indelibly impressed in my memory, comes closest to capturing the farce's satirical flavor. Perky in pink, but, more importantly, utterly beguiling in every scene, Ferland is the vivaciously comedic engine ("Is there anything whimsical about me?" she asks) that drives this production. Bryan sweetly essays the more demure but no less boldly inclined cousin Constance.

The confounded, if comely, Hutchison hasn't yet found the fun to be had with his semi-split personality as Charles, a man whose social status allows him to take gross liberties with some women but demands restraint and awkwardness when it comes to those of his own class. Schrider has possibly been prodded a little too hard toward caricature as Hastings, George's dependable best friend. Any servant would have his work cut out for him within this unsettling situation and Lucas Caleb Rooney, as Diggory as well as the purveyor of the prologue, settles resourcefully for mugging.

James Morgan's parlor setting is handsomely detailed to the period. It must also work overtime as a pub, (evoked by a dropped down overhead sign that reads "The Three Pigeons Pub") and also as the bottom of the Hardcastle's garden. Mary Jo Dondlinger's dimmed lighting affects this nicely. However, director Moore places the actors during these scenes directly in front of the large pillar on stage right, a decision that completely obstructs the view of patrons sitting on the three tiered rows on the side of the stage. And I'm not sure that it is fair for those patrons not to have the pleasure of seeing all the same pained expressions and purposeful grins, as the rest of the audience did.

She Stoops to Conquer --Pearl Theater production
She Stoops to Conquer -- London Production

She Stoops to Conquer
Written by Oliver Goldsmith
Directed by Charlotte Moore
Cast: Lucas Caleb Rooney (Prologue, Diggory), Patricia O'Connell (Mrs. Hardcastle), Remak Ramsay (Mr. Hardcastle), Tim Smallwood (Tony Lumpkin), Danielle Ferland (Miss Kate Hardcastle), Jennifer Bryan (Miss Constance Neville), Donald Grody (Sir Charles Marlow, Landlord), Brian Hutchison (Charles Marlow), Tommy Schrider (George Hastings)
Set Design: James Morgan
Costume Design: Linda Fisher
Lighting Design: Mary Jo Dondlinger
Wig and Hair Design: Robert-Charles Valliance
Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes including intermission
The Irish Repertory Theater, 132 West 22nd Street. (6th & 7th Aves) 212/ 727- 2737 From 5/05/05 to 6/26/05; opening 5/12/05.
Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 3 pm
Tickets: $50 and $45.
Reviewed by Simon Saltzman based on May 10th press performance
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