Asking a Texan to act with a British accent for two hours is like prodding a knight to swim the Rio Grande in a suit of armor. Such noble feats are often attempted and too infrequently realized.
On stage now at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center is She Stoops to Conquer. Part of Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s 2017 Classic Fest, the 1771 sentimental comedy penned by Irish poet and playwright Oliver Goldsmith is proclaimed to be one of the most popular in the English language. Goldsmith’s prose is both literal and lighthearted, sidestepping any political jokes to the liking of audiences still lurching from the Cromwellian era. His writing is memorable, even it isn’t all his own –– Goldsmith has long been accused of plagiarism by modern critics, but that’s never lost him any appeal with lovers of high and low literature nor with a local audience last weekend.
The plot is set in motion in the English countryside, where two London gentlemen, Mr. Marlow (Chris Rothbauer) and Mr. Hastings (Robert Twaddle), are traveling to meet the former’s potential love interest, Miss Hardcastle (Jessica Taylor), and her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle (Bert Pigg and Cynthia Matthews, respectively). While en route, the young men cross paths with Tony Lumpkin (Jae Defoore), a meddling boob who steers these city folk to the Hardcastle mansion but misdirects their judgment, leading them to believe they are traveling to an inn. As is only natural in the theatrical realm, comical confusion unfolds, offending certain players and enamoring others to new paramours. Hastings collides with a suitress (Shannon Garcia) he has long desired, and together they agree to stoke Lumpkin’s ruse. Miss Hardcastle joins the other young tricksters until the seniorest Hardcastle and Marlow realize they’re the butts of a rather involved prank.
Of all the characters, the Hardcastles stooped to please theatergoers the most. Pigg spanned the stage with arresting charisma, and Matthews carried the comic relief on her well-padded shoulders. Taylor, however, added delightful authenticity to the production with her exceptional command of accents, switching between Oxford English and barmaid cockney. Defoore sometimes dipped into his physical comedy skills but seemed unwilling to drown his amenable onlookers. His accent waned most during the bar ensemble scene, but this foible was easily overlooked with so much merrymaking masking his and the rest of the ensemble’s inattention to intonation. Rogers occasionally struggled with cadence, but the dynamism of his character development was redeeming.
The sound design left something to be desired (a something known as musical interludes and sound effects). What was missing in the soundscape, though, was made up for in set design. As expected, the Guild prepared an elaborately designed set with a less than lavish budget. The open-concept living room flowed into a modest dining room that doubled as a bar during the alehouse scene. Wallpaper, paint, and a stitch of upholstery lined the few flats at the back of upstage, and antique furniture looked right at home at stage right and stage left. Costuming united the piece to the period, excepting for the men’s over-opulent silk vests.
Although this play reigns supreme in literary critics’ circles, it’s often approached as a study in classical training for young thespians. Director Richard Stubblefield has the wherewithal to approach this sort of production, which will appeal to bookish types wanting to bust out of a Shakespearean rut.
She Stoops to Conquer
Thru Oct 27 at Fort Worth Community Arts Center, 1300 Gendy St, FW. $16-22. 866-811-4111.