There's a reason 18th century playwright Oliver Goldsmith's "She Stoops To Conquer" continues to grace theatrical stages worldwide nearly 250 years since it was first performed in London in 1773...It's funny, and in a myriad of ways.
As English literature and drama majors know, "Stoops" may be considered a classic example of a laughing comedy, a comedy of errors, a comedy of manners, a romantic comedy, a satire, and just a good ol' fashioned farce. That's a lot of comedy.
Two refined gentlemen, George Hastings (J. Hargrove) and Charles Marlow (Jonathan Sachsman) are made unwitting butts of Tony Lumpkin (Jennifer Hasselbusch)'s practical joke that leads them to believe the rustic home of one Mr. Hardcastle is actually a countryside inn (comedy of errors).
Marlow treats Mr. Hardcastle accordingly, demanding to see the "bill of fare" as though he were in a restaurant, while Hardcastle silently fumes at the young man's "impudence," made all the more striking by the fact that Marlow is the son of Hardcastle's old friend, Sir Marlow, who has emphasized how "modest" his son is (comedy of manners).
There's Hardcastle's daughter, Kate (Joy Baldwin), who deceives the younger Marlow, pretending to be a cockney barmaid to draw out Marlow's more expressive, and lascivious, tendencies, as part of her attempts to win Marlow's heart (romantic comedy).
Toss in a subplot involving another would-be romance between Hastings and Hardcastle's cousin, Miss Constance Neville (Cheryl J. Campo) involving some family jewels, and there's your satiric farce.
The play is rife with memorable quotes. Mr. Hardcastle notes, "I love every thing that is old; old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines," and even old wives, as dowager Mrs. Hardcastle (Nancy Linden) is an especially comic figure. Linden plays a Margaret Dumont-style society-climber wannabe, who discovers her latest fashions a poor clothing choice for an unexpected romp in a horse pond.
Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle are the highlights of this production, truly inhabiting their characters, and reveling in their roles; one never senses that they are acting. Sadly, this cannot be said for most of the other performers in this production which featured far too many stumblings over lines, actors speaking at the same time, and few demonstrating the ability to project while on stage.
Director Caitlin Bouxsein deserves kudos for casting against type; whether on purpose or simply by necessity, the result adds to the absurdity of the happenings on stage. Mrs. Hardcastle's son from a previous marriage, the "boobish" rascal Tony Lumpkin, is played by a woman, Ms. Hasselbusch, who certainly looks the part, but sadly, sounded as though her mouth were full of marbles-it was extremely difficult to hear her speak. She seemed to spew all of her lines with a single short breath, her volume control one bar short of "mute."
Unfortunately, it was a problem not limited to Ms. Hasselbusch; Sachsman as Marlow often seemed to be "pushing" his lines out on stage, as did members of the ensemble (Rachel Reckling, Nicole Reynolds, Donnie Lewis, LaTashia Byrd) which made what was said in one first act scene at a local drinking house all but unintelligible.
The audience especially enjoyed the performance of J. Hargrove as Hastings who was especially winning in his comic attempts to keep his calm--lace-handkerchief-in-sleeve, wig slightly askew, voice striking soprano to match his soaring anxiety--as his best-laid-plans for love seemed all but dashed.
Despite the stumbles, the entire cast does receive an "A" for effort, throwing themselves into their parts with as much energy as they could muster. The execution may have been better if the performances were more relaxed and not so forced.
While the stage of the Mobtown Players is small, stage manager Lara Benstein and production crew members Jessica Ruth Baker (set/costume design) Carlos Guillen (sound), Justin Thillman (lighting), Jonathan Kerr (set/costumes) do exceeding well in transforming the diminutive stage into a the sitting room of a fine manor house; a few lighting changes and a floral-entwined trestle effectively create the illusion of the manor grounds.
"She Stoops to Conquer" continues its run at the Mobtown Theater, now through through February 5, performances Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with a matinee on Jan. 30th at 4 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors. The Mobtown Theater is located in the Meadow Mill complex, 3600 Clipper Mill Road in Hampden. To purchase tickets or find directions, please visit www.mobtownplayers.com.