VPR Backstage: ‘She Stoops to Conquer’

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(Host) The English countryside is the setting for an 18th century restoration comedy being produced at Saint Michael’s Playhouse.

VPR’s Neal Charnoff goes Backstage with “She Stoops to Conquer.”

(Charnoff) The original title of Oliver Goldsmith’s comedy “She Stoops to Conquer” was “Mistakes of the Night.” So it’s no surprise that confusion and inappropriate behavior form the basis for much of the play’s humor.

Two London gentlemen set out to court the ladies of the Hardcastle household in rural England. They arrive at what they believe to be an inn, which is actually the Hardcastle home. The men mistakenly treat the Hardcastle family as if they were members of the so-called “lower class” of barmaids and servants.

Charles Marlow is perfectly comfortable talking to barmaids and servants. But he has a nervous condition when it comes to formally courting someone of his own class.

In this scene, Marlow is introduced to Kate Hardcastle. But because of his anxiety, he doesn’t look at her, so following their meeting, he will still think she’s a barmaid. For now, he can only manage to stutter and stumble through their conversation.

(Hardcastle) “You were going to observe, sir?”
(Marlow) “I was observing, madam – I protest madam, I forgot what I was going to observe.”
(Hardcastle) “I vow and so do I. You were observing sir, something about hypocrisy, sir.”
(Marlow) “Yes, madam. In this age of hypocrisy there are few who upon strict inquiry do not a a a-“
(Hardcastle) “I understand you perfectly sir.”
(Marlow) “Egad! And that’s more than I do myself.”

(Charnoff) The Saint Michael’s staging of “She Stoops to Conquer” shows how different components can come together to convey a play’s mood and themes. Sarah Carleton of Burlington is the play’s director. She points to a colorful, cartoonish set design as an important ingredient.

(Carleton) “What we wanted to do was, I wanted this to sort of to pop off the stage, the characters to sort of come alive and be recognizable. Everything is painted to look real, but it is not real. The set flies in and flies out. There are some real pieces of furniture, but mostly it’s fake. It’s painted to look real as a way of illustrating the appearance versus reality, which is relevant in the play – that how we appear isn’t necessarily who we really are.”

(Charnoff) Kate Hardcastle is played by Kathryn Blume of Burlington. She says that authentic 18th century costuming helps her understand and convey her character.

(Blume) “I am tightly strapped into a very firm corset, and that completely alters your breathing, it alters how you carry yourself, it alters how much you can move. And you can’t be wearing layers of brocade and be in a beautifully tailored period gown without it completely changing how you relate to the entire world, how you sit, how you arrange your skirt. If you’re paying attention, it changes everything.”

(Charnoff) Charles Marlow is played by John Hayden of New York City. He says that ultimately, the humor of the play comes from the confining elements of English society.

(Hayden) “When you have all those kind of constraints, and then you enter into something that’s funny, then you have the ability to really sort of take it apart. And that’s where you get the farce. Is it funny to watch a guy run into a door? No. But it’s very funny to watch a guy run away in fear and a door just happens to be there. And that’s really the difference, and the direction that Sarah has taken this in is we really found the people first. So you’re laughing with them and not the fact that there’s a banana peel on stage.”

(Charnoff) In this scene, Marlow finds out that he is really at the Hardcastle house, and not at an inn.

(Marlow) “So then, all’s out, and I have been damnably imposed on. O confound my stupid head, I shall be laughed at over the whole town. I shall be stuck up in caricature in all the print shops. The Dullissimo Macaroni. To mistake this house of all others for an inn, and my father’s old friend for an innkeeper! What a swaggering puppy must he take me for! What a silly puppy do I find myself! There again, may I be hanged, my dear, but I mistook you for the barmaid.”

(Charnoff) Kathryn Blume says that playwright Oliver Goldsmith touched on characters and situations that still ring true in contemporary society.

(Blume) “It’s a classic mockery of manners and of well known characters, and yet there’s a very sweet love story in there. How do we get past our roles and our dress and the sort of formality of who we’re supposed to be in the world and come together at the level of who we truly are as people. And it’s pretty wonderful how universal that is, and how timeless.”

(Charnoff) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Neal Charnoff.

“She Stoops to Conquer” will be performed at Saint Michael’s Playhouse in Colchester through July 24.

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