She Stoops to Conquer

Austin Playhouse brought out the impudence of this comedy of manners through a shared vision of sincere simplicity

Old-school wedding planner: Babs George's Mrs. Hardcastle won't rest until Indigo Rael's Constance and Stephen Mercantel's Tony get hitched.
Old-school wedding planner: Babs George's Mrs. Hardcastle won't rest until Indigo Rael's Constance and Stephen Mercantel's Tony get hitched. (Courtesy of Christopher Loveless)

"Impudence." It's a word that's thrown around a lot in Oliver Goldsmith's 1773 play She Stoops to Conquer. But this is not an uncommon theme in comedies of manners, which one could easily argue is the most fitting generic classification for this play. In fact, She Stoops to Conquer is often celebrated as having a large hand in the revival of Restoration comedy, with its tropes of insolence, brazenness, and parody of societal mannerisms.

As such, the play fit nicely within the Austin Playhouse tradition of offering up period pieces as regular fare, transporting us back to bygone times with fantastical designs and circumstances. Aficionados of the genre – both Playhouse subscribers and newcomers alike – likely enjoyed the casting of familiar faces in particularly fitting roles. Rick Roemer and Babs George as Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle shone especially bright in their highly comedic interactions with each other, as did Andrew Bosworth and Claire Grasso as lovebirds Charles Marlow and Kate Hardcastle. As Tony Lumpkin and Constance Neville, Stephen Mercantel and Indigo Rael provided yet another dynamic duo, hilariously bent on foiling Mrs. Hardcastle's unending pursuit of their conjugal union.

Lara Toner-Haddock and Don Toner teamed up to provide solid direction. The pacing was swift, the interplay funny, and the characters well-defined. Though period pieces featuring much mistaken or deceitful identity can sometimes prove challenging to follow in modern times, this Conquer was an easy ride. The cast's attention to details of physicality and timing was most helpful in achieving this clear sense of storytelling.

As is often the case with Playhouse productions, the designs were consistent and complementary without overwhelming the action. Buffy Manners' costumes brought to the fore Goldsmith's period and stylistic implications. One of Mrs. Hardcastle's costumes was a particularly fine example of this: a wildly colorful, gigantic ensemble with much superfluous frill and heightened ridiculousness. Diana Huckaby's wigs also played nicely into the context of the converging design elements. Desiderio Roybal' s set was both simple and effective, as was Don Day's lighting. Joel Mercado-See's sound design provided a soundscape from the period, with strains of harpsichords and consorts transitioning us from scene to scene.

While impudence may be a theme common to Restoration comedies, it's a shared vision of sincere simplicity that paradoxically carried this Conquer. Austin Playhouse didn't put on airs in its production; instead, it left that task to Goldsmith's funny bunch of characters and a well-wrought collaboration of talented cast and crew to bring all the fun alive.

She Stoops to Conquer

Austin Playhouse at Highland Mall, 6001 Airport, 512/476-0084
February 26
Running Time: 2 hr., 30 min.

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Austin Playhouse, Don Toner, Lara Toner-Haddock, Rick Roemer, Babs George, Stephen Mercantel, Indigo Rael, Andrew Bosworth, Claire Grasso, Desiderio Roybal, Buffy Manners, Don Day, Joel Mercado-See

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