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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
at TACT Studio

ROMANTIC ENTANGLEMENTS
By JESSICA BRANCH

  Tony Roach, Jeremy Beck, Justine Salata and Mairin Lee/ Ph: Marielle Solan

If the rom-com has a grandmother, this play is it. Oliver Goldsmith’s classic is older than America (it was first performed in 1773 in London), but TACT’s new production shows that it’s as fresh and funny as ever. Director Scott Alan Evans keeps the action light and lively and the laughs coming in this clever comedy of missing manners and interlocking courtships, while making sure the story’s complexities stay clear.
 
And that’s no small feat. There is a lot of plot to keep track of. Strand one: Kindly country squire Mr. Hardcastle (John Rothman) and his bumptious second wife (a delightful Cynthia Darlow) are interested in marrying off his beloved daughter Kate (a fetching Mairin Lee) to a Sir Charles Marlow (the eminently embarrassable James Prendergast). But Marlow turns out to have the singular disability of being tongue-tied around proper young ladies but always ready for a romp with common girls. Weaving in strands two and three, Marlow travels with his friend George Hastings (Tony Roach), who’s in love with Kate’s friend and the Hardcastles’ ward, Constance Neville (Justine Salata), to meet Kate. En route, however, the two men stop at an inn where they encounter Tony Lumpkin (an extremely entertaining Richard Thieriot), an oafish mama’s boy who’s Kate’s stepbrother, Constance’s cousin and, if his mother has anything to say about it, Constance’s future, even though the two squabble like siblings on a long car ride. Lumpkin pranks the two lofty gentlemen by directing them to his stepfather’s house – claiming that it’s actually an inn hosted by an eccentric and somewhat uppity landlord.
 
The etiquette enormities that follow may be less than surprising after this setup, but they’re nonetheless delightful as the suspense and offense spin out. The two gentlemen, meeting up with Kate and Constance, believe they’ve just stopped by the “inn,” and Prendergast is so stiff, sober and straitlaced meeting Kate that it’s hard to believe that Lee’s lively pert Kate would fall for him. But when she, with the help of some intel from Hastings, disguises herself as the help, the ensuing sparks prove that she knows what she’s about. Meantime, the two would-be wooers make themselves at home in the “inn,” offending their usually affable host and setting the stage for yet another truly embarrassing etiquette realization to come. Rothman’s befuddled and barely hidden outrage is a pleasure to watch, as are Darlow’s motherly machinations of her son’s destiny.
 
Set against simple, suggestive wooden scaffolding (courtesy of Brett Banakis), the action unfolds briskly, with the help of crisp musical interludes (original music by TACT company member David Broome). Hints of modernity come into play with the hybrid costumes by Tracy Christensen, which evoke the 18th century but include short skirts for the women, for instance. Such notes accentuate the modern tones and complexity in the period plot itself, which complicates comic caricature by making even its leading lads and ladies touching as well as funny. Even Marlow, so entertaining when he’s mortified, has moving moments of finer feeling, which may even make him worthy of Kate’s love. Perhaps Lumpkin is the least translatable. Yet in the capable hands of Thieriot, the egotistical clown transcends the ages, seeming on the one hand almost Shakespearean, and on the other, more than a little reminiscent of some contemporary standups as he tussles with his cousin and plots to get her safely married off – to anyone but him. But then, some things – like love, loathing, family feeling and overwhelming embarrassment – are just for the ages.

 


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