by Sarah Downs
Three words to describe this production would be wit, whimsy and wherewithal. As adapted and directed by Scot Alan Evans, She Stoops to Conquer is a delightful re-invention of a classic.
Set on a bare playing space defined by a square wooden framework festooned with garlands, with furniture and props ranged around the periphery, including chairs on which the actors will sit when ‘off-stage’, bathed in soft light that hints of a moon through breeze tossed leaves, and with the song of the English countryside in the background, the play begins not with traditional ‘lights up’, but more a gathering of energies as the individual actors arrive onstage to form an ensemble in the truest sense of the word. Whimsy makes its appearance from the start, as the players introduce themselves with a song played on a hodgepodge of quirky instruments one might find in a children’s nursery. The actors scatter to the wings and the action of the play kicks off.
As the story unfolds, Mrs. Hardcastle (Cynthia Darlow) is a determined mother anxious to hitch Tony Lumpkin (Richard Thieriot) her feckless son by her first marriage, to her niece, Constance Neville (Justine Salata), who loathes Lumpkin and is secretly in love with a young nobleman, George Hastings (Tony Roach). Meanwhile, Mr. Hardcastle (John Rothman) has contrived with Sir Charles Marlow (John Prendergast) to arrange the marriage of his daughter Kate (Mairin Lee) to Sir Marlow’s son Charles (Jeremy Beck), whom she has never met. Farce ensues.
The actors are uniformly excellent and very well cast, each finding both the humor and the heart in his character. Two in particular stand out. Mairin Lee as Kate captivates with her charm, innate warmth and humor. Resourceful and sincere, she is sure to conquer anyone, anywhere. Jeremy Beck as Marlow is extraordinary, morphing effortlessly from suave aristocrat to bashful hot mess, to smooth talking lady-killer and beyond. He has everyone in the palm of his hand.
In this adaptation, Scott Alan Evans has devised unique interpretation that hews to the 18th century original but with a 21st century perspective. The young couples at the center of the story stand with one foot in each century. Costumed in modern dress embellished with a few choice elements of 18th century detail, a touch of embroidery on a jacket cuff, the pretty pink of a flowered blouse, the delightful swish of a sheer peplum, they are past and present in one. In contrast, the rest of the cast appears in full 18th century garb, presenting a kind of visual context or frame around the two love stories.
The performance flows easily, with the actors executing the minimal set changes swiftly and with humor. Within the proscriptions of the physical space and the pared down nature of the production, the actors find numerous colors and levels, in some ways liberated by the imposed limitations. It is a testament to their commitment to ensemble and the director’s intelligence that they embrace this experience and run with it.
She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith, adapted and directed by Scott Alan Evans
WITH: Cynthia Darlow (Mrs. Hardcastle), John Rothman (Mr. Hardcastle), Richard Thieriot (Tony Lumpkin), Mairin Lee (Kate Hardcastle); Justine Salata (Constance Neville); Jeremy Beck (Charles Marlow), Tony Roach (George Hastings), James Prendergast (Landlord/Sir Charles Marlow).
Sets by Brett Banakis; lighting by Mary Louise Geiger; costumes by Tracy Christensen; sound by Patrick Kiernan; props by Andrew Diaz; Production Stage Manager, Kelly Burns; Production Manager, Cate di Giralmo; The Actor’s Company Theater (“TACT”), Scott Alan Evans, Artistic Executive Director; Jonathan Weber, Managing Director; Nora Chester and Jeffrey C. Hawkins, Associate Artistic Directors. Presented at The Clurman Theatre, 410 west 42nd St. through November 5th. More info. at www.tactnyc.org or call 212-645-8228. Presented in two acts; running time approximately 2 1/2 hours.