By: Madison Rae Tolley
A good audience does not a good show make. Had a recording of the audience’s reaction to Valdosta State University’s performance of She Stoops to Conquer been created, it would sound slightly like a demented sitcom laugh track. The audience was uproarious upon each and absolutely every silly movement, motion, or word an actor expressed, although it’s unclear why.
Extraneous action from ensemble members trying for humor in the background of scenes sparked some audience laughter, which distracted from the plot-forwarding conversation, if not completely drowned it out. The physical intentions of the primary actors clearly struck roots in Commedia dell’arte, a logical directorial choice due to the show being a Restoration comedy. However the intention of the physical comedy became lost as the focus of the actors appeared to shift from remaining true to the original style to aiming for laughs. One of the largest hurrahs of the night emerged from none other than a tree. Two actors at two separate points purposefully moved a tree created for that purpose, a scenic choice that had no clear motivation than to get a laugh from the audience.
The scene changes took on a presentational form, and while fun, added to the 2.5 hour total duration of the piece. The set appeared interesting, but only if one didn’t look too close. It’s understood that these shows go up quickly upon arrival at festivals, but glaring flaws prominently existed throughout the show: black screws appeared by the dozens on white surfaces like peppered blemishes on what is supposed to be the structure of a rich home, and for a mansion with wealthy inhabitants not much of the furniture matched.
One of the few saving graces of the performance existed in the subtle lighting choices. Covered generally in a wash as most unit sets are, there was distinct lapse of time indicated by traveling, dimming beams of light across the rear windows, clearly indicating a sunset. The chandelier proved to be piece of scenery and lighting combined that showed that at least some historical research had been done for the show, referencing an old religious habit with a single lit candle. While this reference is historically accurate, it begs the question: is this a play about religion? If the answer is no, then why the candle? If the answer is yes, then it’s entirely confusing, because the only clear message I walked away from was to, when in doubt, aim for the cheap laughs and always “overact.” The existence of one religious metaphor in the entire comedy shows an in-cohesiveness between the design and the vision of the show…something clearly wasn’t communicated in production meetings.
As the neglected prologue written by David Garrick begs, “What shall we do? If Comedy forsake us, They’ll turn us out, and no one else will take us.” My answer is a modified reply that echo’s the words of Mr. Hardcastle himself: “But this is overacting…you may be open. [We] will like you all the better for it.”