“It’s just like a modern sitcom, almost like ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,'” said director John Neville-Andrews – not exactly what you’d expect to hear about this weekend’s Theatre and Drama Department production, “She Stoops to Conquer.” First performed in 1733, Oliver Goldsmith’s aging script might masquerade as a prim and proper comedy from centuries ago, but don’t be too quick to judge this play by its genre. Goldsmith puts to use the timeless themes of thwarted seduction, dysfunctional family dynamics and good old-fashioned romantic comedy, making “She Stoops to Conquer” accessible to any modern audience with a sense of humor.
The show opens with Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle, a country couple anxious to marry off their two children and finally become empty-nesters. Charles Marlow, a wealthy Londoner, begrudgingly acquiesces to his own parents’ request that he leave the city to meet the Hardcastles’ daughter, Kate. Marlow and his wingman set out through the countryside in search of the Hardcastle estate, although, as in any romantic comedy, the journey does not go as planned.
The boys get lost, and end up asking for directions from the Hardcastles’ scheming step-son. Fueling a plot of mistaken identity, the stepson tells the gullible city-dwellers they’re hours from their destination and must spend the night at an “inn” down the road. The inn, of course, is actually the Hardcastle estate itself, and the oblivious pair enters the place with a haughty air of classic upper-class superiority, talking down to the Hardcastle family as if they were barmaids and hired help. Not a good first impression for the hopeful groom, to say the least.
The suitor, Marlow, also has an unusual quirk: He gets terribly tongue-tied around high-class women. This might sound like a just a mild idiosyncray, until it’s juxtaposed with the extravagant Don Juan-ish sex drive he exhibits toward girls of the lower class. So when Marlow first meets Kate Hardcastle and mistakes her for a barmaid – well, it turns out the 1700s were pretty racy after all.
Director Neville-Andrews picked “She Stoops to Conquer” not only because it has entertained audiences for more than 250 years, but also because the unique rhythm and structure of its language challenges his acting majors. “You have to pick a variety of shows for a given theatre season,” he said. Neville-Andrews is a veteran director of these farcical period comedies. His production of the 1907 comedy “A Flea in Her Ear” charmed Power Center audiences last winter.
As University productions rarely spare any expense, this show promises to be an extravagant spectacle of period scenery and costume, with some actors even fitted for false teeth. So if the weather’s got you down, stop by the Mendelssohn Theater this weekend for a generous dose of rollicking comedy featuring some of the school’s most talented young actors. The show promises to tap into audiences’ affinity for romantic comedies like “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” with an added element of 18th-century stylized flair.
She Stoops to Conquer
Tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
At the Mendelssohn Theatre
$22/$19/$9 with student ID