Has there ever been a time where you walked into a room and thought to yourself that this is not the house you knew? That is exactly what happens to Mr. Hardcastle, one of the main characters in the 18th century play She Stoops to Conquer, which opens at the Little Theatre on Orchard Hill Road on Friday, July 8, and runs through July 24.
The play centers around the The Hardcastles who live in a house that could be mistaken for an inn. The owners, Mr and Mrs. Hardcastle (played by actors Rob Pawlikowski and Linda Gilmore) are anxious to introduce their daughter, Kate (Liesbet Higham) to a wealthy bachelor Charles Marlow (Ward Whipple).
Unbeknownst to Mr. Hardcastle, Marlow is a disaster when it comes to women of higher social standing but very well-spoken with lower-class woman such as barmaids and housekeepers. Kate realizes that she will have to “stoop to conquer” and pretends to be a barmaid in her own house.
Upon arriving in town, Marlow stops at an ale house to ask for directions where he meets Tony Lumpkin (Jacob Aviner), Mrs. Hardcastle’s mischievous son, who tricks Marlow and his friend Hastings to going to an inn that’s really the Hardcastle’s house. Confusion ensues as the characters banter back and forth with comical asides and witty banter.
This classic farce comedy is in good hands with director, Ruth Anne Baumgartner. With almost 30 plays to her credit with the Town Players, she keeps the show’s energy going with perfect comedic timing. The first act sets up the exposition well while the second act is timed so perfectly that the audience will be in stitches by the end of the play.
“I find the characters are very appealing. It’s a play without villains. A lot of confusion, but no villains,” says Baumgartner.
Even though this play dates to 1773, the dialogue is easy to follow and the humor is not hard to pick up on. Many of the characters are caricatures of people whom we would see in our everyday lives: the doting mother, the daughter who wants to grow up, and the trickster of a boy. Though the wording may sound a little foreign to most 21st century ears it is not impossible to get a good chuckle out of any particular scene.
Much of the comedy is provided by the over-dramatic characters, such as Tony and Mrs. Hardcastle. Tony is called by the owner of the alehouse a “mischievous son of a whore” and Mrs. Hardcastle draws attention with her overly dramatized delivery and constant gesticulation.
Despite some of the character’s overly dramatic tones, many of the characters are quite loveable, which is one of the qualities that drew Baumgartner to the play.
“I really love plays that are about people trying to do their best in hard situations,” she says.
The characters also are sympathetic, particularly Mr. Hardcastle, who after being mistaken for the innkeeper by Charles Marlow, walks in at the top of Act II exasperated and proclaims: “I no longer know my own house!”
The farce comedy is offset by the plotting of Constance Neville (Megan Poitras) and George Hastings (David Hartigan) who are among the first to discover the error and its beginnings, along with Constance’s cousin, Tony. Despite being aware of this mistake, they decide not to inform Marlow of his error as they plot to run away to France.
The characters may seem a little straight for a comedy but certainly have their place in driving the action as they scheme and plot their way into unthinkable predicaments.
Goldsmith’s work is a favorite to study in high school and college English literature classes. She Stoops to Conquer, in particular, has been made into several movies, including a couple of silent movies in 1910 and 1914, a 1971 BBC miniseries, and most recently, a 2008 television adaptation.
“I think it deserves to be put on more then it is,” says Baumgartner. “So much 18th century literature is dismissed as something to be studied, but there are some plays that deserve to be on the stage.”
The Town Players are currently in their 76th season. When they first began in 1935, the Little Theatre on Orchard Hill Road didn’t exist. Their performances were held at the Edmund Town Hall in the Alexandria Room.
It wasn’t until after a performance of Alice in Wonderland in 1949 that they were able to invest in the Orchard Hill Road property that would later become the site for The Little Theatre.
Reservations for the show can be made by calling 203-270-9144. Admission is $20 for adults, and $10 for children 10 and under. The box office opens an hour before curtain, Friday and Saturdays at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 1 p.m., for tickets. Curtain times are 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday.