— Jay Hindle, Josh Drebit, Luc Roderique in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of She Stoops to Conquer. Photo by David Cooper.
SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
Kudos to the Arts Club for continuing to produce classic comedy—The Importance of Being Earnest last season, now She Stoops to Conquer. These are expensive, large cast shows that require elaborate costumes and sets, and they’re a hard sell with Vancouver audiences who don’t get a lot of chances to see and get to know the arcane language and styles that often accompany Shakespearean romantic comedy, or comedy of manners from the Restoration, 18th (in the case of She Stoops), or 19th century. Bard on the Beach showcases the Shakespeare, and United Players gives us a Restoration or 19th century treat once a year, but otherwise the pickings are slim. So a show like this is welcome.
Dean Paul Gibson has shown himself to be adept at directing these beasts at Bard, the Arts Club and Playhouse, finding ways to enhance the funny and minimize the often dated wordiness these plays tend to exhibit. With She Stoops he brings to the stage a couple of veteran actors, in Norman Browning and Leslie Jones, who make a delicious meal of their characters and the language. The show looks great, too, with Rebekka Sorensen’s lush period costumes and David Roberts’ clever and efficient set. But with only a couple of other exceptions this thing just never gets off the ground.
Browning and Jones play the naïve country squire and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle, and they are hilarious. Browning’s Hardcastle harrumphs and staggers about, masking his soft heart, while manic Jones’ Mrs. H tries so hard to be sophisticated with her ridiculous feather headdress and machine-gun laugh. Their son, Tony Lumpkin, is also very funny, played by Chris Cochrane who looks as lumpy as his name suggests.
Those three are involved in a plot of mistaken identities and missing jewels while the primary romantic plot revolves around four young lovers: their daughter Kate (Jennifer Mawhinney), who has to stoop to conquer handsome Charles Marlow (Luc Roderique), who is only attracted to wenches; Charles’ friend Hastings (Jay Hindle) and his girlfriend Constance (Melissa Oei), who is in constant conflict with her cousin Tony. The problem is that nothing about these characters or their plot is funny or otherwise particularly engaging. And the performances are strictly hit and miss.
Beyond that, the play drags badly, especially in the second act, and much of the dialogue is difficult to hear and/or understand. Gibson has arranged some songs at the beginnings and ends of acts and during scene changes, which only add to the drag. They at least give the half-dozen ensemble actors something to do besides change scenery. Of them, Josh Drebit stands out for his comic energy.
I was really rooting for this show to succeed—to conquer!—because I’d love to see more period work on our professional stages.