Saturday, May 30, 2015

Review: She Stoops to Conquer

She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith, produced by Quintessence Theatre Group, directed by Alexander Burns, featuring E. Ashley Izard, Sean Bradley, Sonja Field, Josh Carpenter. Reviewed by Wendy Rosenfield

Review: She Stoops to Conquer

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By Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

Some adore Oliver Goldsmith’s 1773 Restoration-style comedy She Stoops to Conquer, and others loathe it. Among its admirers, there have existed enough artistic directors in the ensuing centuries to thoroughly redeem Mr. Goldsmith’s youthful reputation as a dissolute slacker. Count Quintessence Theatre Group’s Alexander Burns in the former camp. He’s running the mistaken identity romp in repertory with Hamlet, a whole other sort of identity play.

There’s so much to love about this work: its good-natured sense of humor; its battle of the sexes, with both sides well-matched; its feints at class consciousness; the way it challenges assumptions of urbanity and rusticity. The haters, however, cite its convoluted plot and lack of elegant prose. I’ve always liked it, and Quintessence’s production certainly made me laugh, but it also underscores some of the negatives.

Gentleman Marlow (Josh Carpenter), uniquely affected by the presence of a lady, can’t seem to form a coherent sentence. Get him around a barmaid, though, and he swaggers like a true player. Carpenter’s Marlow, handsome, and alternately chest-out pompous or knock-kneed impotent, makes a fine match for his intended, Sonja Field’s charming Kate Hardcastle. Sent to the Hardcastle residence by Kate’s half-brother Lumpkin (Sean Bradley) as a trick, Marlow believes the Hardcastle residence is an inn, her parents its haughty innkeepers, and Kate a tavern wench (who sports a deliberate, though anachronistic, tri-state-area accent). 

There’s more to the story, of course, and you’d think it wouldn’t need much embellishment, but Burns’ spare Elizabethan courtyard set, a black platform between a pair of audience risers, and Ellen Moore’s glaringly white lighting flatten some of the show’s effervescence. Similarly, Bradley’s Lumpkin is a fool, but not the satirical kind, rather a village idiot who got lucky, and E. Ashley Izard’s Mrs. Hardcastle never finds a balance between screeching and subtle scheming. Both characterizations render some of Goldsmith’s sharper barbs inert. 

To be sure, Burns’ cast has a good time here, and the updates--that accent, a rebooted prologue--understandably popular tweaks among directors, work just fine, though more would work better, and that may be this production’s chief problem. Perhaps a lack of commitment holds Burns’ vision back. Does he want to present a classic work or make a case for its relevance? I’m still not certain, and while I had a pleasant enough stay with the Hardcastles, neither their fans nor detractors will find a real home here.

Playing at: Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia. Through Sun., Nov. 24. Tickets: $10 to $25. Information: 215-987-4450 or QuintessenceTheatre.org

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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