NEW YORK—In the best tradition of 18th century comedy, Oliver Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer” encompasses all the tricks of that trade: mistaken identity, extreme characterizations, convoluted and zany plotlines, and miraculously favorable outcomes.
In the hands of TACT’s (The Actors Company Theatre) adapter, director, artistic director Scott Alan Evans, the current reprise at the Clurman Theatre on Manhattan’s Theatre Row fills the bill and then some.
Staged in a bare bones’ style (set design by Brett Banakis), Evans lets the ridiculous but guileful text speak for itself.
In his English country estate, Mr. Hardcastle (played informally but firmly by John Rothman), awaits the visit of young Charles Marlow (the intense Jeremy Beck), son of a friend of Hardcastle. The two have never met.
But first we meet Mrs. Hardcastle (played to a T by Cynthia Darlow), a somewhat ditzy woman and completely dependent on her husband. She adores her son by a prior marriage, the sly Tony Lumpkin (Richard Thieriot), and ignores the fact that he loves only to drink and carouse at a nearby inn with his less than respectable buddies.
Inasmuch as Hardcastle pointedly disapproves of Tony, the latter decides to create mischief, in order to rain on Hardcastle’s parade, so to speak. Conveniently for Tony, the sudden appearance in town of young Marlow and his friend George Hastings (handsome Tony Roach) gives Tony the leverage he wants, and the plot is set rolling.
When the two young men seek lodging for the night, Tony directs them to a comfortable “inn,” which is actually the Hardcastle estate. There Marlow is smitten by Hardcastle’s daughter Kate (Mairin Lee), but is shy and tongue-tied in the presence of this elegant young woman.
Sensing Marlow’s timidity because he is cowed by her upperclass status, Kate disguises herself as a barmaid, which enables him to show his true colors as a gallant and articulate suitor.
However, things initially don’t go well for Marlow, as his surly treatment of Hardcastle, whom he has taken to be the innkeeper of this establishment, enrages the older man, who of course is actually the host. In one of the funniest scenes, Hardcastle piles chairs and tables onto the stunned Marlow’s lap, to indicate his rage.
Only later does Marlow realize his error, when Kate informs him of Hardcastle’s true identity.
A visit by Marlow’s father Sir Charles Marlow (played with dignified calm by James Prendergast) helps straighten the matter out. But other excitement intervenes, with a stolen but later found jewel chest, a chase in the dark, with Mrs. Hardcastle almost fainting in terror at the pursuit by a stranger whom she fears is a highwayman.
Hastings finds romance with Mrs. Hardcastle’s niece Constance Neville (the energetic Justine Salata); Tony is released from any romantic or other obligation as he is abruptly informed that he’s come of age and can continue to do as he pleases. And as noted, “all’s well that…”
Arguably, “She Stoops to Conquer” maintains interest for producers and audiences alike, as in addition to being simply comedic, it is layered with societal elements that are universal and timeless: the class system, hypocrisy, greed, and romance, in all its derivatives.
Performances are first rate, with all but two members of the cast being members of the TACT company, whose thrust is to produce “great plays reclaimed and reimagined,” as noted in a promotional piece.
TACT has followed its goal in this production, which makes for a lively and entertaining evening.
‘She Stoops to Conquer’
The Clurman Theatre
410 W. 42nd St. (at Theatre Row)
Running Time: 2 hours (and one intermission)
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or Telecharge.com
Closes: Nov. 6
Diana Barth writes on the arts for various publications including New Millennium. She may be contacted at DiaBarth99@gmail.com