She Stoops to Conquer, or Rather, Not Conquer

By: Sally Henry

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” -Walter Scott

Deception ran rampant with identities confused every which way before the first act of Valdosta State University’s production of She Stoops to Conquer had ended at KC/ACTF. With that in mind, the comedy of manners boasted bright, colorful 18th century costumes- the bustles, the gaudy wigs, and the powder- framed against an equally colorful set. The realistic set brought the audience in to the time and culture in which the play took place and kept us there by way of old-fashioned chairs and a folding screen. The one set piece that bothered this critic was the pathetic little chandelier suspended above the middle of the stage. Even if you were to forget for a moment that the lights on the chandelier were half-heartedly lit, the arms were tilted in different directions, and the entire contraption hung crookedly, as did the rest of the production.

But what relevance has Oliver Goldsmith’s 1773 play at KC/ACTF in 2015? With timeless themes of love and class, the answer should be, a great deal of relevance. Irrespective of the true answer, which would take an entire essay to figure out, the restless audience did not appear to relate to this piece. Indeed, the profuse laughter that followed in waves after a humorous line was more the crowd’s response to an audience member with an amusing laugh than the content itself.

Director/choreographer Jacque Wheeler successfully conveyed Goldsmith’s work realistically within the time period, though what accents he intended his cast to utilize remained a mystery and thus detracted from the experience. Some actors went with an upper-crust British dialect, while others stuck to an ambiguous hybrid between American and British, and still others floated in and out of distinctive American and British accents on a whim.

The talented cast proved to work well together as a cohesive ensemble, staying in character in every way from their movement to their body language as they changed the set between scenes. However, the background characters frequently took focus away from the main action with their comedic, albeit distracting shenanigans.

Larren Woodward brought expressive physicalities and endearing facial antics to Kate, the young lover who, as Goldsmith reminds us more than once in the text, socially “stoops to conquer” in order to capture the heart of Mr. Marlow.

As Marlow and his wing-man Mr. Hastings, Ethan Ray Parker and Vaughn Stevens made a dynamic duo, employing whimsical gestures and asides to one another, working together seamlessly.

If any actors had the ability to keep the disinterested audience’s attention, however, it was Matthew Hogan. Portraying the happily oblivious Tony Lumpkin, Hogan demonstrated a firm grasp on comedic timing with strong, physical character choices.

So despite some strong actors and lovely restoration costumes, the state of the chandelier sums up the entire production: an off-kilter mess.

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