Sunday, July 11, 2004
It's difficult to imagine a contemporary audience objecting to the subject matter of University Theatre's upcoming production.
But "She Stoops to Conquer," written by Irish playwright Oliver Goldsmith and first performed in the 1770s, caused a disapproving stir in its day.
Popular comedies of the time were sappy, sweet and sentimental, but Goldsmith preferred real humor, says director Sara Armstrong, who graduated with a master's degree in May.
"It's kind of a ludicrous plot going on, where this series of unbelievable events takes you through some really quite funny stuff," she says. "What we've done is tried to build on that and explode this idea of building laugh upon laugh upon laugh. It's really fun and raucous and irreverent."
"She Stoops to Conquer," a frisky mixture of low comedy and high farce, follows two strong-minded, independent young women as they defy the expectations of their family, society -- and even their lovers -- to find love on their own terms.
The women are confident, smart, sassy and in control, Armstrong says. They are determined to end up with the suitors THEY prefer, not the ones their parents suggest.
"So they play the games that their parents kind of force them to play but end up bending all the rules so that they get what they want in the end," Armstrong says.
"The idea is they have to stoop to deception. Especially in the time that they were working in, they weren't allowed to just come out and say, 'This is what I want.'"
Despite the play's outdated context for women, it stands through time remarkably well, Armstrong says.
"Miscommunication between the sexes and between generations is still familiar and still hilarious," she says. "'She Stoops to Conquer' proves the path to true love isn't always paved with roses and Hallmark cards."
Armstrong -- along with scenic designer Mark Reaney, professor of theater and film; and costume designer Delores Ringer, associate professor of theater and film -- were inspired by the lavish extravagance of the Rococo period. At the same time, they were influenced by contemporary sensibilities about love and gender roles.
"We're trying to do it kind of outside of any strict period, so the costumes are inspired by certain Rococo design elements, but it isn't period costume," Armstrong says.
"They're actually fabulously ridiculous costumes. Our gentlemen are in pastel polyester tuxedo suits and slimy, shiny, silky shirts. So the costumes are as funny as the play is."