She Stoops to Conquer
Northlight Theatre (see Resident companies). By Oliver Goldsmith. Adapted by William Brown. Dir. Brown. With Timothy Edward Kane, Kymberly Mellen, Steve Haggard, Dennis Grimes, Linda Kimbrough.
It’s good for business, apparently, to retrofit premodern classics in pop genres, a multi-bird-one-stone defense for regional theaters. Charges that the American theater isn’t literary enough? Done. Accusations that theaters aren’t doing anything to attract young audiences? Not a problem. Unanswerable why-should-I-care suggestions that classical literature has lost its relevance and is just plain dull? Take that.
Yet what can you say to a production that plausibly, playfully relocates a Restoration-era mistaken-identity class satire in the Old West, uses outta-this-world country songs for comic narration (composer Andrew Hansen needs a full-length musical commission pronto), features farcical performances so well groomed they border on immaculate, and still leaves you kinda bored? No doubt Brown’s adaptation of She Stoops was a joy to put together. You can imagine how satisfying it must have been to discover, inch by inch, how Goldsmith’s world matches up with that of Louis L’Amour. And given the raggedy mischief of Haggard (he’d be a decent Tony Lumpkin in any era), the ridiculous dapperness of Grimes (even his foppish strawberry-blond locks have comic timing), or the astonishing drollness Kane brings to his flirtation scenes (he proves again as slumming Mr. Marlow that matinee-idol casting is far beneath him), you can tell Brown’s roundly adept cast is having a ball.
But yet somehow it’s never quite as fun for us. Last fall, Brown’s bracingly unsentimental revival of Lillian Hellman’s Another Part of the Forest proved that humor needn’t be surgically attached. In any comedy about love and its infidels, textual fidelity has merit, too.—Christpher Piatt