A ‘She Stoops to Conquer’ to admire at Rockville Little Theater

The comedy of manners spoofs the British class system. Direction, costumes, and set are worthy of Watch Awards.

Rockville Little Theater’s production of Oliver Goldsmith’s 1773 comedy, She Stoops to Conquer, stays firmly in the 18th century. That’s a good thing. Trusting the material, director Jennifer Georgia works with her cast to present the play in a style faithful to the period.

That style is anything but naturalistic. This is not the century for method acting. Actors often deliver lines — not only in the play’s many asides — straight out to the audience. No rigid fourth wall here. There is a kind of formality in the ways characters address one another. The formality extends to the blocking, in which Georgia frequently arranges the actors in symmetrical stage pictures. While not allowing the pace to lag, Georgia’s overall tempo for the piece is unhurried.

Nancy Sommers as Mrs. Hardcastle and Lou Zammichieli as Tony Lumpkin in ‘She Stoops to Conquer.’ Photo by  Harvey Levine.

The play is a satirical comedy of manners (written about 30 years before Jane Austen’s heyday) focusing on the absurdities of the British class system. Charles Marlow (Ian Swank) is on his way from London to the large country home of Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle (Richard S. Huffman and Nancy Somers) to meet a prospective match, the Hardcastles’  daughter Kate (Lindsey McDermott).

Charles has a class-based quirk: with persons — above all women — of his own station, he is shy, awkward, and tongue-tied. With persons of lower social class, he is outgoing, expansive, and forward toward women in a way that would not pass muster in the #MeToo era. Swank’s physicality embodies the two sides of his character nicely, his awkwardness in his initial scenes with Kate being exaggerated just enough to make the point without going over the top.

Kate likes him, and having been clued in to his peculiarity, assumes the role of a barmaid, with clothing, accent, and swagger to match. Charles immediately begins pursuing her, as his class privilege entitles him to do. Stooping (in class terms) to get her man, McDermott makes her character the smartest person in the room, who has great fun deceiving Charles, who in turn is the last to know anything. Brilliance of mind is not required among the upper classes, after all.

Kyle Sprankle as George Hastings and Jenn Robinson as Constance Neville in ‘She Stoops to Conquer.’ Photo by Ira Levine.

Speaking of deceit, there’s a trickster afoot. Tony Lumpkin, Mrs. Hardcastle’s son (Lou Zammichieli) looking forward to an inheritance and meanwhile content to sing and drink at the local tavern, directs Charles to the Hardcastle house, telling him it is an inn. This leads to protracted misunderstanding between Charles and Mr. Hardcastle. The former believes the latter to be an uppity innkeeper. The latter believes the former to be an impossibly rude house guest. His annoyance at Charles notwithstanding, Mr. Hardcastle is a fond parent to Kate. Huffman often times his lines with a slight hesitation, an “off beat” that adds an interesting trait to the character.

Mrs. Hardcastle — Somers’s histrionics in the role are a hoot — wants Tony to marry Kate’s friend, Constance Neville (Jenn Robinson), a prospect appealing to neither. Constance wants to marry Marlow’s friend George Hastings (Kyle Sprankle). Tony, Constance, and George find it in their mutual interest to conspire to deceive Mrs. Hardcastle, intending to let the pair to elope to France, bringing Constance’s jewels with them.

Ian Swank as Charles Marlow, Lindsey McDermott as Kate Hardcastle, and Rob Allen as Sir Charles Marlow in ‘She Stoops to Conquer.’ Photo by Ira Levine.

Complications naturally ensue, but this being a romantic comedy, all ends happily. The humor in the play mostly comes not, as in many shows, from one-liners or witticisms but from the tight playing of the ensemble as they explore the absurdity of their situation, navigate the many deceptions and mistaken assumptions, and react to one another. Georgia gives the cast lovely comic bits from time to time, my favorite being Constance’s repeated turning away from George as he leans in for a kiss. It is reminiscent of Lucy’s constantly pulling the football from Charlie Brown’s attempt to kick it.

The cast members do consistent and convincing English accents (credit here to accent/dialect coach Pauline Griller-Mitchell), though words are sometime swallowed in the process.

The cast of ‘She Stoops to Conquer.’ Photo by  Harvey Levine.

In addition to her directing chores, the very busy Georgia also designed the well-executed period costumes, featuring relatively subdued tan jackets for most of the men (Marlow’s more vivid attire is an exception) and a variety of hues and styles for the women, highlighted by Mrs. Hardcastle’s red skirt. And designed the effective hair and makeup. And designed the set. Using symmetrical flats, painted in neutral colors while shapes of mirrors, candlesticks, a deer trophy, etc. drawn onto them (set painting credit to Nancy Carlin), the set provides not only a functional place for the action but a delightfully detailed sense of the period.

This is an admirable presentation of a show the merits of which have allowed it to survive for over 250 years. Direction, costumes, and set painting are Watch Award–worthy.

Running Time: Approximately two hours 35 minutes, including one intermission.

She Stoops to Conquer plays through May 8, 2022, presented by Rockville Little Theater performing at The F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre located on the grounds of the Rockville Civic Center Park, 603 Edmonston Drive, Rockville MD. For tickets ($22; senior and student $20), call the box office at 240-314-8690 2 to 7 pm Tuesday–Saturday or go online .

COVID Safety: Face coverings are optional and are not required in City of Rockville facilities, but all patrons will be required to present evidence at the theater that they are fully vaccinated with an FDA or WHO authorized vaccine and present a government-issued photo ID or school-issued ID (photo not required). RLT’s complete COVID policies are here. Contact RLT at info@rlt-online.org for questions or concerns.

She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith

CAST
Kate Hardcastle: Lindsey McDermott
Charles Marlow: Ian Swank
Constance Neville: Jenn Robinson
George Hastings: Kyle Sprankle
Tony Lumpkin: Lou Zammichieli
Mrs. Hardcastle: Nancy Somers
Mr. Hardcastle: Richard Huffman
Sir Charles Marlow: Rob Allen
Ensemble: Daniel Dausman, Steve Kaufman, Sam Kuhr,  Avery Morstan, Lauren Pacuit

PRODUCTION
Director: Jennifer Georgia
Producer: Jerry Callistein
Producer: Meredith Dayhoff
Stage Manager: Christine V. Hurst
Master Carpenter: Steve Leshin
Lighting Designer: Marc Wright
Sound Operator: Matthew Mills
Props: Nancy Carlin

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