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San Francisco by Richard Connema

She Stoops to Conquer is a Real Hoot

She Stoops to Conquer
Phoebe Moyer and George Maguire
The cast of Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer at the Marin Shakespeare Festival pulls out all stops to make this a rousing camp of the playwright's classic farce. The audiences at the Marin Shakespeare Festival are rolling with laughter, thanks to the over-the-top slapstick acting of this marvelous cast. The comedy is running with Othello at the Dominican University, Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, San Rafael through August 15th.

Oliver Goldsmith, 18th century playwright and novelist, wrote within a 10 year span plays and novels to entertain the British public. Of all the plays he wrote, She Stoops to Conquer is the only one that still performed worldwide. Goldsmith's friend Dr. Samuel Johnson said "work is considered literature until it continuously pleases audience for 100 years." This work has been pleasing audiences all over the world and it is classic English literature at its best. Goldsmith is one of the Anglo-Irish playwrights who changed the course of English plays, from gracious and schmaltzy presentations that were popular to satirizing the pretentiousness of London society. I have seen many productions of this farce, mostly in the UK, and the current Marin production is one of the best in my memory. She Stoops had a dual premiere on March 15, 1773. It opened at the Covent Garden Theatre at the same time its British "cousin" premiere the satire at the John Street Theatre in New York.

She Stoops to Conquer has many subplots and wild twists and turns throughout the 2 and a half hour production. It centers on a young London dandy, Charles Marlow (Darren Bridgett), traveling to the countryside with his best friend Hastings (Paul Sulzman). They are going to the manor of Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle (George Maguire and Phoebe Moyer) to meet for the first time the Hardcastle's daughter Kate (Deborah Fink) who has been projected as a potential wife. Tony (Jonathan Gonzalez), Mrs. Hardcastle's son and an oafish and boisterous lout, is waiting impatiently for his inheritance which he will receive at age 21. Mrs. Hardcastle is intent on marrying Tony to Constance Neville (Kate Dunlop) because she wishes Constance's very expensive jewels remain within the family. Constance and Tony have an intense dislike for each other.

Through misunderstanding and the mischief of Tony, both Marlow and Hastings mistake the Hardcastle's house for a country inn, the host Mr. Hardcastle for an innkeeper and the intended bride for a barmaid. From there, the fun starts where hoax upon hoax continues to delight the audience. The entire cast is having a lot of fun with the play as they over-camp many scenes to the enjoyment of the audiences. There is constant motion on the stage, and the velocity and timing of the performances which is indispensable to farce is marvelous through out the whole production. They never stop as many of the actors try to outdo each other in many scenes.

Once again, Darren Bridgett proves to be one of the Bay Area's best actors in his performance of a toff who acts most differently according to what he believes the social standing of the company to be. As Constance says of him, "Among women of reputation and virtue, he is the most modest man alive; but his acquaintance give him a very different character among creatures of another stamp." He is wonderful as the bungling, stuttering man when he first meets the lady like Kate. Bridgett brings down the house as he stumbles and pratfalls about the stage trying to talk to the well bred Kate.

George Maguire and Phoebe Moyers as the Hardcastles almost steal the show with their wonderful comedic performances. Both inject a farcical element that is marvelous. Maguire gives a genial performance as an accommodating if somewhat perplexed by the impudence of his guests. His interaction with Bridgett is animating and ingenious. Phoebe Moyers is over the top as the wife who is a fashion wannabe yet has never visited London. Deborah Fink is excellent in both of her personalities: as the Hardcastles' lady of quality daughter and her as alter ego, the barmaid who "stoops to conquer." Paul Sulzman, who plays the slimy Iago in Othello, does a complete about face as the likeable flamboyant Hastings. Jonathan Gonzalez as Tony is the epitome of a country bumpkin with an excellent North England accent. Kate Dunlop is first rate as Constance.

Director Robert S. Currier keeps the action fast and furious and the timing of the actors is impeccable. Jennifer Kazmark's costumes are perfect 18th Century dressings.

She Stoops to Conquer, in repertory with Othello, runs through August 15 at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre on the Dominican University campus in San Rafael. For tickets call 415-499-4488 or visit the web site www.marinshakespeare.org.

The Marin Shakespeare Festival will concluded with a wild west version of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew which opens on August 27 and runs thru September 25.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


Photo: Stephen Underwood


- Richard Connema



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