In Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s She Stoops to Conquer, a skilled cast with a script that has stayed light and funny for over two hundred years makes for a great night out, hour after hour after hour.
In a country tavern, two well-dressed young men from London come looking for directions to the Hardcastle estate. One is Charles Marlow (Brendan Edward Kennedy), whose father is a dear friend of Mr. Hardcastle (Ron Heneghan), putting him in the perfect position to marry his daughter Kate Hardcastle (Anna DiGiovanni). But Marlow has a major hang-up perfectly crafted for a comedy of manners: Though he is confident-if-not-lascivious around serving girls, he is a stammering, stumbling mess when talking to young women of his and Kate’s station. With him is George Hastings (Gerrad Alex Taylor), another well-off young man who is in love with Mrs Hardcastle’s (Lesley Malin) ward, Constance Neville (Elana Michelle). However, Mrs. Hardcastle is deadset on matching Constance with her spoiled rotten stepson, Tony Lumpkin (Elliot Kashner).
Tony would have nothing to do with Constance and everything to do with mischief, drunkenness, and hanging around in that very same tavern that very same night. Indignant at these trendy young Londoners, Tony gives directions to Marlow and Hastings to the Hardcastle estate, but convinces them that it is instead an inn with a delusional upstart for an innkeeper who will pretend to be gentry. Playing into this trick gives Kate a way to get to know the real Marlow, but she falls for him just as he ruins his reputation in the eyes of a baffled and affronted Mr. Hardcastle.
First performed in 1773, She Stoops to Conquer was a ”laughing comedy,” driving out the previous trend of melancholy and moralistic “sentimental comedies.” For us, it’s something of a popcorn-munching romcom. Though that setup seems ripe for satire befitting Moliere, playwright Oliver Goldsmith and director Ian Gallanar go for an evening of easy, lighthearted fun. But neither Goldsmith nor Gallanar could have been clued into 21st century attention spans. At nearly three hours long, She Stoops to Conquer is something of a siege.
She Stoops to Conquer
closes October 21, 2018
Details and tickets
The pre-show, beginning and end of intermission, and every set change includes live music played by the cast. While it demonstrates some inarguable skill and makes the setting very clear, it is a major culprit behind the runtime. The music covers for the set changes, but then the set changes slow down to accommodate the songs. Room for too many breaths between laughs risks a yawn.
Fortunately, Gallanar directs a talented and energetic cast that keeps the show afloat. The rascal Tony Lumpkins is charmingly portrayed by Kashner; his smarmy attitude and quick hits from a flask always reward the audience’s attention. Both Kate and Constance are a pure delight when they seize upon deceitful power. When Constance and Tony finally join forces to trick Mrs. Hardcastle, the playful chemistry is so strong, I found myself rooting for Mrs. Hardcastle to get them hitched after all!
Heneghan’s Mr. Hardcastle is another standout. Heneghan and Gallanar nail just the right amounts of gentleman, ass, and honestly well-meaning father. The believable love between Heneghan’s Mr. Hardcastle and DiGiovanni’s Kate is something any Prospero and Miranda would be jealous of. And then he gets a turn as Dogberry leading his watchmen when training some last minute servants before Marlow’s arrival.
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She Stoops to Conquer is well-served by two of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s long-standing policies: On the first mezzanine, there is a bar open throughout the show and a piano open to anyone to play during the pre-show or intermission. For this show, it even has a slight make-over to resemble the Three Pigeons, where rascally Tony Lumpkin tricks Marlow and Hastings. The sheet for a traditional drinking song used in the show is provided for any volunteer pianists. It drives the point home that this show, albeit one of manners, is well-suited to drinking and only-somewhat posh music.
Much like most nights of drinking and music, She Stoops to Conquer starts off easy and light, and then ends way later than planned with you rushing off to bed cursing yourself for staying up. But it has many hilarious moments and charming people to look back on. That’s just what long evenings are made for.
She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith. Directed by Ian Gallanar. Performed by Ron Heneghan, Lesley Malin, Elliot Kashner, Anna DiGiovanni, Elana Michelle, Abigail Funk, Gregory Atkin, Tim Neil, Brendan Murray, Gerrad Alex Taylor, Brendan Edward Kennedy, and Carol Spring. Set design by Emily Lotz. Lighting design by Jason Aufdem-Brinke. Costume design by Kristina Lambdin. Hair, wig, and makeup design by Sandra Spence. Music direction by Grace Srinivasan. Dramaturgy by Kathryn M. Moncrief. Dialect coaching by Zach Campion. Production managed by Kyle Rudgers. Production stage managed by Alexis E. Davis. Produced by Chesapeake Shakespeare Company. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.