2002 She Stoops to Conquer

October 15, 2002
The New York Times

If You Watch for a Wench, You Might Miss Your Mrs.


Mistaken identity has been a staple of stage comedy since Shakespeare, and there are few plays in which identities become more embarrassingly mistaken than in Oliver Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer,” an 18th-century comedy of manners the Pearl Theater Company is staging in a smart and energetic revival that is also quite funny.

Goldsmith was an Irish-born, Scottish-trained doctor who became friends with Dr. Johnson and turned to writing at 29. Before his death at 46 he wrote one play (“She Stoops to Conquer”) and one novel (“The Vicar of Wakefield”) that have stood the test of time and secured him a place in the canon. Along with Sheridan, a fellow Irishman, Goldsmith changed the course of the English theater from the polite and sentimental plays of the day to lampooning satires that mocked the snobbery of London society.

The plot turns on young Charles Marlow, a London toff, traveling with his friend Hastings to the country house of the Hardcastles where he is to meet for the first time the young woman who has been proposed as a prospective wife. Through misunderstanding and mischief, Marlow mistakes the Hardcastles’ house for a country inn, his host for the innkeeper and his intended for a barmaid.

Chuck Hudson, the director, keeps his able cast in almost constant motion on the stage, even through the scene changes. The pace and timing of the performances, essential for farce, is sharp throughout, from pauses to double-takes, and Mr. Hudson patiently lets the humor build on its own rather than trying to rush the laughs with stage business or mugging.

The entire cast seems to be having a lot of fun with the play, and that becomes infectious with the audience. Christopher Moore is credible playing the split personality of young Marlow, but he is especially good as the fumbling, stammering Londoner who can’t even look a well-bred young lady in the eyes.

Celeste Ciulla is no less enticing in both her personas as gentleman’s daughter and wench. Scott Whitehurst makes the foppish Hastings likable, and Eunice Wong is alluringly coquettish as the object of his affections. John Camera and Sally Kemp are amusing as the country squire and his wife, and Jay Stratton is manic as the practical joker Tony Lumpkin. There are some noteworthy comic turns by Edward Seamon, Dominic Cuskern and John Livingstone Rolle, and Daryl A. Stone’s period costumes are sumptuously delightful to look at.

By Oliver Goldsmith; directed by Chuck Hudson; stage managers, Lisa Ledwich and Dale Smallwood; production manager, Ms. Smallwood; set consultant, Beowulf Boritt; costumes by Daryl A. Stone; lighting by Stephen Petrilli; original music and lyrics/sound design, Brian Hurley. Presented by the Pearl Theater Company, Shepard Sobel, artistic director; Joanne Camp, associate director. At Theater 80, 80 St. Marks Place, East Village.

WITH: Celeste Ciulla (Kate Hardcastle), Christopher Moore (Charles Marlow), John Camera (Mr. Hardcastle), Sally Kemp (Mrs. Hardcastle), Jay Stratton (Tony Lumpkin), Eunice Wong (Constance Neville), Scott Whitehurst (George Hastings), Edward Seamon (Landlord and Sir Charles Marlow), Mary Molloy (Pimple and Bett Bouncer), Dominic Cuskern (Dick Muggins and Diggory), Stewart Carrico (Tom Twist, Thomas and Jeremy) and John Livingston Rolle (Jack Slang and Roger).