Classic 18th-century comedy of errors presented by PAD

'She Stoops to Conquer' opens Feb. 22

Class, courtship and dysfunctional families all collide in “She Stoops to Conquer,” the classic 18th-century comedy of errors by Irish author Oliver Goldsmith.

This month, the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences will present a new production of this prototypical “situation comedy” in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre. Performances begin at 8 p.m. Feb. 22 and 23 and at 2 p.m. Feb. 24. Performances continue the following weekend at 8 p.m. Feb. 29 and March 1 and at 2 p.m. March 2.

Junior Justin Joseph (left) as Charles Marlow and senior Noga Landau as Kate Hardcastle are the leads in the PAD production of ‘She Stoops to Conquer.’

“She Stoops to Conquer” centers on Charles Marlow, an upstanding yet deeply reserved young gentleman traveling to meet a potential bride, Kate Hardcastle. Arriving in town, Marlow and his friend, George Hastings, stop at the local tavern, where they encounter Kate’s mischievous stepbrother, Tony Lumpkin. Lumpkin, recognizing the pair, decides to play a practical joke and directs them to a nearby “inn,” which turns out to be the home of the wealthy Mr. Hardcastle.

“Mr. Hardcastle is expecting Marlow, who, after all, has come to woo his daughter,” said director Jeffery S. Matthews, senior lecturer in drama. “But Marlow, thinking that Hardcastle is just an innkeeper, appears incredibly rude, putting his feet on the furniture and ignoring the old man’s war stories.”

Yet Marlow has another, far graver problem: Upper-class women desperately intimidate him, and his initial meeting with the glamorous Kate (arranged thanks to another practical joke) is a stumbling disaster. Incapacitated by shyness, he is unable to look her in the face.

But Marlow later mistakes Kate, now dressed in plainer garb, for a lowly barmaid, at which point his confidence returns. Kate, deciding to test the young man’s wits, plays along and pretends to be a poor relation of the Hardcastles. Relaxed and at ease, Marlow is soon smitten and asks the “barmaid” to elope.

“Everybody is involved in a mistake or a practical joke, everybody is playing some kind of role,” Matthews said. “But everything is done in fun, the pranks are never cruel, and you really do care about the characters.

“It’s farcical and sweet and terribly funny — truly one of the era’s great comedies,” he said.

Goldsmith, an Irishman who lived and worked in London, wrote “She Stoops to Conquer” in 1771 but initially had trouble getting it produced.

“The premise just seemed too far-fetched,” Matthews said. “The irony is that Goldsmith, in his youth, made this very mistake.” Heading off to boarding school, the young author mistook a well-appointed private home for the local inn and, to the homeowner’s vast amusement, didn’t learn his mistake until the following morning. “It was a humiliation for him, but it later became the basis of the play,” Matthews said.

When it finally debuted in 1773, “She Stoops to Conquer” became a massive success in both Great Britain and America. Samuel Johnson, Goldsmith’s friend, wrote that “I know of no comedy for many years that has so much exhilarated an audience, that has answered so much the great end of comedy, making an audience merry.” It remains one of the period’s most-performed works.

The cast of 17 is led by junior Justin Joseph as Marlow and senior Noga Landau as Kate. Senior Kellen Hoxworth plays Hastings, while juniors David Weiss and Alexa Shoemaker play Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle. Also featured are sophomore Ben Walsh as Tony; junior Jonathan Baude as Marlow’s father; and junior Carli Miller as Constance Neville, Tony’s wealthy fiancée, who attempts to elope with Hastings.

Senior Mitch Malasky’s sets evoke an 18th-century stage and use “roll drops” — large painted trompe l’oeil backgrounds — to represent the play’s three locations. Period costumes are by junior Catherine Elhoffer, with lighting by PAD lecturer Sean Savoie. Original music is composed by junior Kevin Nicoletti.

Tickets are $15 for the public and $9 for students, senior citizens, faculty and staff. Tickets are available at all MetroTix outlets and through the Edison Theatre Box Office.

For more information, call 935-6543.