“Quintessence Theatre Group is dedicated to the performance and adaptation of epic works of classic literature and drama for the contemporary stage, which ignites the mind through the power of the actor, design, and spoken word.”
I am rooting for this budding young theatre company, who’ve bravely taken an enormous leap of faith in presenting solely classic theatre to Philadelphia audiences. I attended the final preview Friday Oct 25th of Oliver Goldsmith’s SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER, a classic 1773 romantic farce about the arranged marriage of a wealthy aristocrat. In their fourth season, young director Alexander Burns, also Artistic Director of Quintessence, is presenting HAMLET in repertory with CONQUER at the Sedgwick Theater in Mt. Airy.
SHE STOOPS… is a stylized romp with all the token elements of farce: mistaken identities, absurdities, a romantic leading man and his cunning bride-to-be, and the classic fop.
Josh Carpenter as the dashing yet bashful Charles Marlow is both convincing and appealing. His extensive experience with classics is evident in his command of the stage. John Preston (a Philly Shakes vet himself with many impressive credits) as Mr. Hardcastle was bumbling yet comically patriarchal. With the exception of a kind of valley girl accent that wasn’t quite consistent as her alter-ego chamber maid, Sonja Field as the beautiful and clever Kate was convincing in her comic moments, along with her lovely counterpart Rachel Brodeur as the loyal Constance. Sean Bradley had enormous energy as the impudent Tony Lumpkin, and scene-stealer E. Ashley Izard as Lumpkin’s mother Mrs. Hardcastle, was delightfully shrill. Other impressive performances included Daniel Fredrick as the smitten Hastings, and Ralph Edmonds as both the Landlord and Marlow Sr.
I’m not entirely certain most contemporary audiences can appreciate a piece with such outdated social mores in such a highly stylized production. The rhyming meter of the dialogue became too lulling for the lengthy play; I would have liked to have seen what a skilled dramaturg could do with some competent editing. The acting far surpassed the style or story itself. That said, there are some beautiful costumes from designer Jane Casanave, clever lighting by Ellen Moore, and fine original music from David Cope. If you truly enjoy stylized farce, you will surely enjoy SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER.
SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER or, The Mistakes of a Night
by Oliver Goldsmith
Directed by Alexander Burns
October 17 – November 24, 2013
Quintessence Theatre Group
at the Sedgwick Theater
7137 Germantown Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19119