Theatre review: She Stoops to Conquer is showing its age

Oliver Goldsmith’s comedy of manners She Stoops to Conquer is showing its age.  While it may have been a “bawdy romp” in its day, modern audiences will have a difficult time finding anything indecent or raunchy in this ridiculous farce of mistaken identities and class relationships.

Despite finding virtually no connection to the material (and few laughs), made more difficult by its 18th century language, there are still some wonderful performances on stage.

Norman Browning as the father is perfectly eccentric, re-living his past through his outrageous stories and suitably blustered by the manner in which Marlow (Luc Roderique) and Hastings (Jay Hindle) treat him.  In a succession of over-the-top performances it is Leslie Jones and Chris Cochrane who, while at times even more difficult to understand as they grow louder, ratchet up the energy each time they make an appearance.  The ensemble work here is uniformly terrific, not only helping to move us through the scene changes with song, but with an attention to characterization that belies their smaller roles.  Josh Drebit as Diggory is particularly fun, literally popping up from time-to-time with a quick salute and a smile.

The cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of She Stoops to Conquer. Photo by David Cooper.
Members of the cast of the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of She Stoops to Conquer. Photo by David Cooper.

David Roberts’ set goes from the sublime to the ridiculous with a wonderful rendering of the Hardcastle country manor juxtaposed against the Three Pigeons Alehouse where we wouldn’t have been surprised to see the cut-out character burst into song or his four-legged counterpart let out a big fart.

In the program notes, director Dean Paul Gibson says that “what had them rolling in the aisles with laughter in 1773 … might not have the same impact with today’s audience”.  Goldsmith himself referred to his play as a “laughing comedy” and from all indications it kept its audience in stitches almost the entire show.  But while this capable cast works hard, they are simply unable to bridge the great divide between what audiences would find ribald and funny in the 18th century and what they do nearly two and a half centuries later.  There was certainly no rolling in the aisles and even the opening night audience, traditionally pre-disposed to standing ovations, was polite.

She may stoop, but at her age she has a really hard time getting back up to conquer.

3 Out of 5 Stars She Stoops to Conquer

By Oliver Goldsmith.  Directed by Dean Paul Gibson.  An Arts Club Theatre Company production.  On stage at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage through November 18, 2012.  Visit http://www.artsclub.com for tickets and information.

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