The Irish Rep turns in an entirely respectable if not dazzling treatment of Oliver Goldsmith’s endearingly eccentric 1773 comedy of manners “She Stoops to Conquer.” Despite the bottlenecks that inevitably occur on this minuscule and awkwardly positioned stage, a nimble company steps lively through the farcical plot about a snooty suitor who mistakes his would-be bride for a barmaid. Well-cast ensemble does well by the 18th century language, and if no one quite acknowledges the underlying humanity of the befuddled characters, the players prove happily at ease with the artificiality of their romantic dilemmas.
Director Charlotte Moore’s well-chosen cast takes its cue from a couple of seasoned vets in pivotal roles. Remak Ramsay’s amusingly adenoidal Mr. Hardcastle is the very model of the old-fashioned country squire who disdains the materialistic values of the city and is determined to marry off his daughter to the manly but modest son of an old friend.
He is partnered with the ever-admirable Patricia O’Connell as Mrs. Hardcastle, who prides herself on the family’s comfortable estate but nonetheless longs for “a trip to town now and then, to rub off the rust.” In the capable hands of these pros — and as drolly costumed by Linda Fisher in the layered finery and lacquered wigs of the period — the senior Hardcastles are as well matched as a pair of porcelain salt-and-pepper shakers.
Picking up on the high comic style of their elders, some of the younger thesps prove adept at sending up the social airs and artificial mannerisms of their characters — if not at addressing the deeper sociopolitical point of Goldsmith’s satirical views of the British class system.
Danielle Ferland, who seems born to play Restoration comedy, is most convincing as the squire’s clever daughter, Kate. In Ferland’s pert and saucy perf, Kate is quick enough to realize her painfully shy suitor isn’t at all bashful about chatting up women of a lower social class than his own. Without delving into the intriguing psychosexual dynamic of men who must go slumming to feel manly — and this undemanding production doesn’t go anywhere near that issue — pragmatic Kate pretends to be a serving wench to win the love of her faint-hearted beau.
Although none of the younger thesps quite matches Ferland’s assured style, Tim Smallwood projects an attractive air of raffish charm as the rebellious Hardcastle son, Tony Lumpkin. To amuse the louts at the local tavern, Tony convinces his sister’s suitor that the family estate is a coaching inn and that his wealthy parents are the innkeepers. As the disoriented suitor, Brian Hutchison summons up the proper degree of citified snobbery to order Mr. Hardcastle around like a servant in his own home — although their comic scenes are won hands down by Ramsay, who is never funnier than when he is playing dumbfounded.
While delighting in the incongruities of human behavior, the witty playwright was not one for plotting, and the absurdities of a subplot involving another young couple and a contested inheritance pretty much defeat the thesps assigned to carry it. Jennifer Bryan takes a literal approach to the young heiress, which rather deflates the giddy humor of the character. Tommy Schrider takes the opposite tack with her swain, playing him with such forced comic exuberance that the character looks a fool.
James Morgan’s handsome set is pure sleight of hand. Although the Hardcastle manor appears sumptuously decorated, at closer inspection, it’s all done with two beautiful Chippendale chairs and a lot of paint: pure surface trickery — but charming for all that.