Dallas — Usually when theaters claim that they are committed to classic, accessible theater they just present lots of Shakespeare—mostly the popular plays with only a few forays into other Elizabethan-era authors—occasionally a Greek tragedy, and a smattering of 17th century French comedies. Rarely do summer festivals venture into the 18th Century, chiefly because there was a serious decline in the quality of material.
However, Anglo-Irish Oliver Goldsmith’s 1773 play She Stoops to Conquer stands out because not only did it signal a change from the predominant moralizing sentimental comedy to the “laughing” version, but it is one of the few works from that time that is still titillating and, thus, enjoys many revivals.
Shakespeare Dallas has been experiencing a significant upswing in quality lately, and it’s not just their Bard fare (full productions and staged readings) that has been shining. In recent years, productions of Cyrano de Bergerac, Tartuffe and The King’s Face (Out of the Loop Festival) were particularly good. Taking on the non-familiar for outdoor audiences might seem daunting, but a committed cast, a director with a fresh eye, and Goldsmith’s still hilarious play deliver.
The play’s conceit is based on practical jokes, mistaken identities, and miscommunication woven into a convoluted plot that unwinds into many opportunities for inventive characterization and wink-wink-nudge-nudge dramatic irony.
Mr. Hardcastle (Eric Devlin), a country gentleman has arranged a marriage (sight unseen) for his daughter, Miss Kate Hardcastle (Anastasia Muñoz) with the son, Charles Marlow (Seth Magill) of his friend Sir Charles Marlow (an animated John Flores).
The younger Marlow comes courting to the country with his similarly sophisticated and foppish friend, George Hastings (Robert Gemaehlich). The pair find themselves lost in a tavern where Hardcastle’s carousing stepson, Tony Lumpkin (Shawn Gann) plays a trick by directing them to stay in a nearby “inn” that is really the Hardcastle homestead.
Thus, the stage is set for spying, drunken antics, puns, aphorisms, double-double-entendres, paddling palms, classism, impudence, social impotence, modesty, frip-frappery (this should be a word), mistaken identities, letter reveals, and scads of marriage intrigue.
With as many moving parts as this comedy requires, it takes a steady hand. York paces the play perfectly and lets an energetic cast shine. The production’s sublime look (Jen J. Madison’s “quantity of superfluous silk” period costumes, Donna Marquet’s fantastic and functional set, and Cindy Ernst-Godinez’s clever props design) make She Stoops a complete world away of popping colors and snappy ensembles.
The only quibble is the presence of sound issues that still plague these outdoor shows. The body mics are more consistent this year, but are cranked up to make quite a few actors appear to be shouting the whole time. Here’s hoping they can rectify throughout the run.
However, the acting is on point. Devlin is steady, as always, and his wife, Mrs. Hardcastle (Constance Gold Parry in the performance reviewed) is a sparkling counterpart. Gann’s Lumpkin is a whirling dervish of pranks and physicality. A cadre of servants provide even more comic relief (with Adrian Godinez’s “too talkative” Diggory as the funniest of the bunch).
The chemistry in the pairs of couples pushes the play forward even more. Gemaehlich’s George and Whitney Holotik as Miss Constance Neville shine in their romantic subplot. Magill and Muñoz steal the show in a play that has many thieving contenders (in a good way). Muñoz (a Junior Players product who now head directs JP) is a vision of charm and comic timing. Magill, in his third show with SD, has hit his stride on the outdoor stage. The heavy lifting he has to do with Marlow’s many personalities is extraordinary.
It is a pity that theater in the 1700s took a collective dive, but we are fortunate that we can still reach back and raise up a play like She Stoops to Conquer.
» Richard III runs in rotating repertory with She Stoops to Conquer; Richard III runs on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays through July 23, and She Stoops plays Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays through July 22; Mondays are dark.
» Our review of Richard III