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Duke Performances: She Stoops to Conquer Is a Comic Jewel

March 1, 2005 - Durham, NC:


Duke Performances will present the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express’ production of She Stoops to Conquer, a classic 18th-century comedy by British playwright Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74), March 3 in Nelson Music Room in East Duke Building on Duke University’s East Campus.

Duke Performances writes, “One of the comic jewels of English theater, Stoops to Conquer lampoons the quirks and customs of 18th-century England, from matchmaking and marriage to character and class. Some things never change. Aptly subtitled The Mistakes of a Night, this lighthearted farce turns several imminent romances upside down through an absurd series of deceptions, disguises, and mistaken identities. Shenandoah Shakespeare is a dynamic young company known for its lightning-quick and thoroughly original renditions of Shakespeare and other classics. With minimal staging, relying on acting talent and the skill of the playwright, Shenandoah Shakespeare traverses the country with their motto ‘We do it with the lights on!’”

The Shenandoah Shakespeare Express summarizes the plot of Stoops to Conquer as follows:

"Mr. Hardcastle’s second wife [Joyce Peifer] wants her son, Tony Lumpkin [Paul Fidalgo], to marry her niece, Constance Neville [Shirine Babb]. Mr. Hardcastle [Christopher Seiler] makes plans for his daughter, Kate [Alyssa Wilmoth], to meet and marry the son of his old friend, Charles Marlow [Jeremy West]. Kate’s friend, Constance, is secretly pledged to George Hastings [Fred Arsenault], who is traveling from London to the Hardcastle home with his friend, the man Kate’s father wishes her to marry, Young Charles Marlow [Jason Vail]. Tony is drinking at an inn with his fellows when the weary travelers arrive. Tony concocts a plot: he convinces the two gentlemen that they are lost, but that ‘one of the best inns in the whole country’ is very close, and he directs them to the Hardcastle house and tells them to pay no mind to the odd Landlord. Hastings and Young Marlowe treat Mr. Hardcastle as an innkeeper; Mr. Hardcastle, unaware of Tony’s hoax, is appalled by the behavior of Young Marlow. Hastings soon runs into Constance, they realize Tony’s game, but they agree to pretend that Kate and Constance happen to be other guests at this ‘inn.’ When Marlow meets Kate, he stumbles over his words and is too embarrassed, shy, and awkward to speak to a gentlewoman properly. Later, Marlow runs into a more simply dressed Kate and mistakes her for a bar maid. She discovers that Marlow is witty and charming when he thinks he’s talking to a bar maid, so she encourages the deception. Meanwhile, Hastings accepts the ‘help’ of Tony to elope with Constance and her casket of jewels. On the way to a happy ending, more deceptions, revelations, and mistakes of a night ensue.”

In introducing Stoops to Conquer, director Jim Warren writes, “Oliver Goldsmith, the one-hit playwright, came along during the height of sentimental comedy. He drifted in and out of many professions in relative obscurity, eventually gaining some notoriety as an essayist late in life. His second play, Stoops to Conquer in 1773, became a huge hit; he promptly died a year later. In spite of being the sole success of an almost unknown playwright, Stoops had an amazing impact on the world of comic theatre. With it, Goldsmith ushered in a new wave of humor that shunned the artificial, heightened, and cold qualities of sentimental comedy in favor of the gentle wisdom and big-hearted warmth of what he called laughing comedy.”

Warren adds, “Goldsmith’s laughing comedy is aimed at amusing rather than at telling an audience what to feel; it reveals man's ridiculousness rather than his sorrow; it unmasks corruption rather than displaying righteousness. Most of all, it’s funny. Also, laughing comedy often spoofs and lampoons elements of sentimentalism.… Audiences reacted enthusiastically to Stoops when it premiered in 1773 and have continued to do so ever since; it remains one of the few 18th century plays regularly performed for modern audiences. Goldsmith shot a much-needed dose of realism into the dull, sentimental plays of the period and his comedy is lively, witty, and imbued with an endearing humanity. Too bad he died before giving us even more at which to laugh.”

Duke Performances presents the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express in Stoops to Conquer Thursday, March 3, at 8 p.m. in the Nelson Music Room in East Duke Building on Duke University’s East Campus, Durham, North Carolina. $20 ($5 Duke Students). 919/684-4444 or http://tickets.duke.edu/. Duke Performances: http://www.duke.edu/web/dukeperfs/calendar.html#shen. Shenandoah Shakespeare Express: http://www.shenandoahshakespeare.com/ [inactive 10/09].