Review: SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER by Oliver Goldsmith. Produced by Seattle Shakespeare Company. Directed by Makaela Pollock. Set Design by Julia Hayes Welch. Costume Design by Chelsea Cook. Lighting Design by Andrew D. Smith. Composer and Musical Direction by Brendan Milburn. Prop Design by Robin Macartney. With Basil Harris, Harry Todd Jamieson, Evan Mosher, Steven Tran, R. Hamilton Wright, Julie Briskman, Shanna Allman, Jocelyn Maher, Karen Jo Fairbrook, Lamar Legend, MJ Sieber. Onstage March 19 to April 14, 2019 at the Center House Theatre/Seattle Center.
Seattle Shakespeare Company has pretty much run out of Shakespeare plays to premiere (plus they obviously like to mix it up a bit) so once or twice a season we get non-Shakespeare productions to check out. And, just like the Shakespeare productions, sometimes they do a great job with their shows and…sometimes, it’s not so good.
Happily, their take on Oliver Goldsmith’s 18th century saucy comedy of manners, SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER is mostly quite delightful. It’s rather unevenly placed in a vaguely ambiguous setting with costuming reflecting a number of different time periods and features the addition of live music. The accents are a scattered lot ranging from sorta British to the Jersey Shore. Still, director Makaela Pollock has breathed a bit of freshness into a play that’s nearly 250 years old aided by some lovely design work from Julia Hayes Welch (sets) and Chelsea Cook’s “mad plaid” costumes.
She Stoops To Conquer is a madcap romp featuring star crossed romances, deception, mistaken identities and considerable amounts of physical comedy. Not all of the physical stuff works, or rather, it just feels forced at times but frankly I frequently take that view with schtick-y bumbling….a little goes a loooooong ways. I much prefer the verbal jousting between the characters, and the company is very adept with the wordplay, especially the delicious Julie Briskman as the conniving Mrs. Hardcastle and the dry wit of R. Hamilton Wright’s Mr. Hardcastle.
The play focuses on the Hardcastle household, a rural manor estate expecting the arrival of Mr. Marlow, a rich Londoner that the senior Hardcastle’s hope to match up with their independent daughter Kate. Meanwhile, Mrs. Hardcastle connives to match up their young ward Constance Neville with her son from a previous marriage, the lazy trickster Tony Lumpkin who isn’t interested in the match. Neither is Constance who has eyes for Mr. Marlow’s best friend George Hastings who is traveling with him.
When the pair of men stop at a local tavern to ask for directions to the Hardcastle’s house, Tony Lumpkin tricks them into thinking they will have to stay at a nearby inn before traveling on…but, the inn is actually the Hardcastle manor and when Marlow treats Mr. Hardcastle like an innkeeper, things get off on the wrong foot. The comedy of miscommunication continues with Kate pretending to be a serving wench to woo Mr. Marlow and Constance and George trying to outwit Mrs. Hardcastle’s machinations to keep them apart.
Of course eventually all is untangled and all the right people end up with the mates they wanted to be with in the first place. The added music bits were fun, led by Basil Harris’s Tony Lumpkin and backed up by a fun trio of musicians (Harry Todd Jamieson, Evan Mosher and Steven Tran) who also double as bumbling servants. It’s all a silly bit of fluff that works mainly due to the charms of the script and the cast. Worth a look see, especially for Ms Briskman and Mr. Wright as the Hardcastles.
Review: FEATHERS AND TEETH by Charise Castro Smith. Produced by Washington Ensemble Theatre. Directed by Bobbin Ramsey. Scenic Design by Pete Rush. Lighting Design by Ryan Dunn. Costume Design by Caitlin Krida Cooke. Sound Design by Maggie L. Rogers. Prop Design by Robin Macartney. Projection Design by Bryce Bartl-Geller. Animation and Effects by Broom Cupboard Studio. With Rachel Guyer-Mafune, Samie Spring Detzer, Brandon J. Simmons, James Schilling and Shaudi Vahdat. Onstage March 29 to April 15, 2019 at 12th Avenue Arts/Capitol Hill.
A different kind of froth is happening with Washington Ensemble Theatre’s current production of FEATHERS AND TEETH by Charise Castro Smith. It’s from the genre of “funny but scary” which is notoriously difficult to pull off on stage or on film but is definitely a genre that WET has enjoyed exploring with varying degrees of success over the years.
Here, sadly, I don’t think they succeed. Feathers and Teeth isn’t very funny and it’s not very scary though they do have moments where a chuckle or a gasp might be mildly warranted.
The material seemingly has some promise…angsty teenager Chris is upset over the arrival of Nurse Carol into the lives of herself and her recently widowed dad Arthur only a few months after the death of Chris’s mom Ellie. To make matters worse, Carol was involved with the care of Ellie before her death and Chris suspects that Carol might have had something to do with it. When Carol actually moves into their home and assumes the duties of a stepmom, Chris is far from thrilled.
Meanwhile, a strange creature with “feathers and teeth” shows up at their home and weirdly creepy things start to occur. Carol starts acting suspiciously and Chris begins to “nancy drew” her way around the mystery including re-examining the life and death of her mom, Ellie with the aid of some rather terrific projections and animations by Bryce Bartl-Geller and Broom Cupboard Studio. She’s also aided by next door German boy Hugo (who naturally has a crush on her) and the pair continue to delve into the multiple mysteries. Eventually, all is mostly revealed, but at a great cost.
There will be blood…
So, we have a decent premise going with Feathers and Teeth but the script tends to ramble about quite a bit and I don’t think director Bobbin Ramsey has a firm handle on the rather slight material or the ensemble of actors. Samie Spring Detzer’s Carol and Brandon J. Simmons’ Arthur are played very broadly in sort of a “wink wink nudge nudge” style of over acting while James Schilling does a stronger job of nailing his charmingly sweet Hugo. Meanwhile, Rachel Guyer-Mafune has the difficult job of trying to play the seemingly more “normal” Chris, amidst all the over the topness of the other characters and the rather contrived plot. The result is, Schilling is the only one who pulls off the funny bits and the modestly scary stuff is solely due to the strength of the design team (also including Ryan Dunn’s lighting and Maggie L. Rogers’ sound designs and Pete Rush’s really terrific 1970s inspired suburban kitchen design which is the real star of the show.)
For me, the not particularly strong script and confused direction/acting elements overwhelm the strength of a supporting actor and great production designs.
If you love funny Teutonic teens and superb theatrical design, then by all means check out Feathers and Teeth.