Scott Alan Evans has adapted and directed this incarnation of She Stoops to Conquer. Before it starts, the actors run around through the theater and interact in character with audience members.
The opening is a musical production number with cast members singing and playing a guitar, an accordion and a xylophone. During the show the actors not in the scenes sit off to the sides in view of the audience reacting and sometimes creating sound effects such as that of galloping horses. In the course of the action, one actor simulates urinating on a potted plant.
This hyper approach doesn’t really succeed and comes across as a gratuitous attempt at imposing a scattershot presentational concept to refresh an old play. Most crucially, it’s not that funny.
First performed in London, in 1773, She Stoops to Conquer has been part of the theatrical repertoire ever since. The convoluted plot takes place over a single, fast-paced and farcical night. It involves the wealthy English couple Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle who live in the country.
Mr. Hardcastle has invited the rich, young Londoner Charles Marlow to his house to meet the Hardcastles’ daughter Kate for the purposes of marriage.
His close friend George Hastings accompanies Charles. They stop at a pub to seek directions. There they encounter Tony Lumpkin who is Mrs. Hardcastle’s son from a previous marriage. Tony tells them that the Hardcastles are a long distance away and directs to them to a nearby inn to stay overnight. This is a practical joke as he actually has sent them to the Hardcastles’ mansion.
Charles and George arrive at the Hardcastles’ house and believing it to be an inn, hilarity ensues. Kate poses as a barmaid in order to attract Charles who is only comfortable around working class women. George is attracted to Constance Neville who is a niece of Mrs. Hardcastle. The finale mirthfully resolves these and other subplots.
Tracy Christensen’s tatty costume design is basically contemporary clothing adorned with ruffles and other accessories to suggest the era of the play.
The scenic design by Brett Banakis is a functional, minimalist configuration of a slightly raised wooden performance platform surrounded by a wooden frame dotted with small antlers suggesting the pub. There’s an assemblage of vintage furniture, potted plants, screens and vines that are shifted about to designate the various locations.
This all contributes to a deficit of visual grandeur that the production is understandably striving for on a limited budget but doesn’t achieve. These design flaws could be superseded by an abundance of bravura performances, but there aren’t.
The ensemble is composed of Jeremy Beck (Marlow), Cynthia Darlow (Mrs. Hardcastle), Mairin Lee (Kate Hardcastle), James Prendergast (Sir Charles Marlow), Tony Roach (Hastings), John Rothman (Mr. Hardcastle), Justine Salata (Constance Neville) and Richard Thieriot (Tony Lumpkin). They’re all technically accomplished actors but their aptitude for comedy and command of period style is individually variable.
M.L. Geiger’s lighting design and Patrick John Kiernan’s sound design are adept. David Broome’s original music is jaunty.
Overall this rendition of She Stoops to Conquer is pleasantly adequate.
She Stoops to Conquer (through November 5, 2016)
TACT/The Actors Company Theatre
The Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.tactnyc.org
Running time: two hour and 15 minutes with one intermission