By Stone Ferrell
It’s about 8 o’clock on Thursday, April 3, 2008 and the clamor of students and Fredericksburg locals rushing to their seats in Klein Theatre before beeping their cell phones off fades neatly into the strings of rising chamber music. And just like that, it’s 1773.
From here on out, it’s all preening and petticoats as the cast of She Stoops to Conquer transforms the main stage of Mary Washington’s Theatre Department into the grand manor of one Mr. Richard Harcastle.
When the lights come back up, the packed theatre almost seems out of place next to the gorgeous set design and costumes.
It’s a clash of styles—eighteenth century meeting the twenty-first—that could be too distracting. That is until the crowd lets out its first laugh.
Now we’re off and running.
The play follows the exploits of a shy young English nobleman, Charles Marlow, who starts only to stutter whenever he’s face-to-face with any eligible young lady of his own class.
Thankfully though, he and his best friend are tricked into thinking the home of Marlow’s latest pretty young prospect is a lowly inn, and the girl in question is just your average, run-of-the-mill, gorgeous barmaid.
What follows is a witty rush of hilarious mistaken identities, bar songs, young love, and the family jewels. All the while moving things forward are the play’s solid cast.
It says a lot about a play when even the crew changing the sets between scenes gets roars of laughter out of the audience. The cast—despite yards of costume fabric and layers of make-up that can only be measured in inches—manages to squeeze every laugh they can out of a play that’s close to 250 years old.
Was that a challenge? Of course it was. Especially when you only have a month-and-a-half to put it all together. But after many nights of five-hour long rehearsals, the cast and crew of She Stoops to Conquer have created an infectiously funny play.
UMW Theatre vets like Steve Perkins and Emma Klemt alternately make you laugh and break your heart. Meanwhile, sophomore Landon Randolph and junior Talya Rebecca Halpern fill the stage with their own easy, contagious hilarity.
“I could watch her ‘til the end of time, she’s so funny!” said junior Samantha West.
Even when they’re off the stage, Randolph and Halpern manage to somehow steal the show, which is saying something, especially considering how fine the rest of the cast is— and how hard they must be working just to keep their wigs on.
After the show, the play’s director, Helen Housley, was filled with pride and praises for her cast, and the feeling was mutual among each of her actors. Though by far, the best praise for the play was coming from the audience.
With words like “funny,” “fantastic,” and “brilliant” being thrown around in the DuPont lobby, the best line actually came from one of the play’s stars, who from the sound of things could’ve been sitting in the audience, watching the show herself.
Said Talya Rebecca Halpern, “I had a great time.”