SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER by Oliver Goldsmith, directed by Albert Schultz, with Oliver Dennis, Fiona Reid, Patricia Fagan, Stuart Hughes, Molly Jane Atkinson and Paul Manz. Presented by Soulpepper at the du Maurier Theatre (231 Queens Quay West). Runs to September 27, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday and Saturday 2 pm. $28-$46, stu $25. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
I'm surprised some enterprising Hollywood hotshot with a degree in English or drama hasn't adapted Oliver Goldsmith 's She Stoops To Conquer for the big screen. As Soulpepper's new production shows, the writing's aged well. The themes about public and private politenesses are still relevant, even if the subplots about elopement and disguise seem a bit old-fashioned. On his way to visit his father's friends the Hardcastles and meet their eligible daughter Kate ( Patricia Fagan ), Charles Marlowe ( Stuart Hughes ) - who's comfortable talking to barmaids yet painfully shy with women from his own class - and his friend George Hastings ( Jordan Pettle ) are tricked by Kate's stepbrother Tony ( Paul Manz ) into thinking the Hardcastles' home is a common inn. Do misunderstandings ensue? You bet your powdered wig they do.
Director Albert Schultz delivers an amusing production that occasionally lapses into cute smarminess. A plunking harpsichord alerts us to heightened emotions - the musical equivalent of an aside. Fine. Later, the music ( Marek Norman composed it) feels forced and precious, like a compulsory Kiwanis composition.
Hughes's Jon Bon Jovi-esque Charles carries the play along with his forceful, swaggering performance, punctuated by a funny scene when he's being a polite nervous wreck. Fagan does some of her best work yet, perhaps because Kate's not a psychologically deep character but full of wit and hauteur, something the actor communicates well. Molly Jane Atkinson 's Cousin Constance steals lots of scenes with her coy line readings.
Fiona Reid 's charming as the chattering, vain and unhappily married Mrs. Hardcastle, while Oliver Dennis grounds the entire show as the wise, nerdy father. Dennis is so good, you don't mind that he continually plays what's essentially a single gag.