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Gerald Carpenter: UCSB Theater ‘Stoops to Conquer’

Six performances of the Oliver Goldsmith comedy begin Friday in Hatlen Theatre

The UCSB Department of Theater and Dance will be offering a new production of Oliver Goldsmith’s hilarious comedy She Stoops to Conquer for six performances, beginning Friday through March 5, in the Hatlen Theatre on the UCSB campus.

Oliver Goldsmith was a brilliant one-shot — one-shot novelist, one-shot poet and one-shot comic playwright.
Oliver Goldsmith was a brilliant one-shot — one-shot novelist, one-shot poet and one-shot comic playwright.

Directed by Simon Williams with sets by Nayna Ramey, costumes by Ann Bruice and lighting by Michael Klaers, She Stoops to Conquer stars UCSB student actors Tarah Pollack, Merlin Huff, Robert Torres, Kelsey Foltz, Dylan Hale, Brian Bock, Jennifer Michaels, Nico Kiefer, Jak Watson, Nicole Abramson, Patrick Arter, Megan Caniglia, Allie Granat, Ashley Hunter and Ian Watson.

Goldsmith’s play is often grouped with the so-called “Restoration comedies.” The problem, I think, is that from the period between the last great Restoration comedy, William Congreve’s The Way of the World (1700) and Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), She Stoops is just about the only English comedy still on the stage, and at first glance it seems closer in years and spirit to Congreve than to Wilde or George Shaw. But in fact, Goldsmith has much more in common with Shaw than with Congreve. It’s better to show than explain:

The Way of the World opens with two young aristocratic bucks, Fainall and Mirabell, rising from the card table. Fainall has just won a bundle and asks if they are done. Mirabell shrugs. “I’ll play on to entertain you.”

Fainall shakes his head. “No,” he says, “I’ll give you your revenge another time, when you are not so indifferent. You are thinking of something else now, and play too negligently — the coldness of a losing gamester lessens the pleasure of the winner. I’d no more play with a man that slighted his ill fortune than I’d make love to a woman who undervalued the loss of her reputation.”

“You have a taste extremely delicate,” Mirabell says, “and are for refining on your pleasures.”

She Stoops to Conquer (1773), in contrast, opens with a country squire and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle, in conversation. She wants to go to town; he to remain in the country. Then she brings up her son by a previous marriage, Tony Lumpkin, a drunken wastrel and prankster. Mr. Hardcastle sees the rascal for what he is; Tony’s doting mother, in denial, makes excuses.

“The poor boy was always too sickly to do any good,” she says. “A school would be his death. When he comes to be a little stronger, who knows what a year or two’s Latin may do for him?”

“Latin for him!” Hardcastle scoffs. “No, no; the alehouse and the stable are the only schools he’ll ever go to.”

“Well, we must not snub the poor boy now,” she says, “for I believe we sha’n’t have him long among us. Anybody that looks in his face may see he’s consumptive [tubercular].”

“Ay, if growing too fat be one of the symptoms,” hubby says.

“He coughs sometimes.”

“Yes,” Hardcastle agrees, “when his liquor goes the wrong way.”

For better or worse — and mostly, I think, for better, Fainall and Mirabell and their kind have vanished from the face of the Earth, while Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle may be spotted — and overheard — every day in country clubs, in restaurants, in the symphony audience, at Episcopalian weddings and other places where the upper middle-class congregates.

She Stoops to Conquer plays Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees on both Saturdays. Tickets are $17 for the general public and $13 for students and can be obtained from the Theater and Dance Ticket office, across from Hatlen Theatre. Click here or call 805.893.7221.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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