Gettin' bawdy with Restoration Comedy

The theater department of Seattle Pacific University (SPU), the academic jewel located on Queen Anne Hill, is presenting the very English Restoration comedy by Oliver Goldsmith, "She Stoops to Conquer," for the next two weekends, April 19-21 and 26-28. There's a show at 7:30 p.m., with a Sunday matinee on April 28 at 2 p.m.

Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74) was a playwright, novelist, poet and essayist. Born in Ireland, this son of an Anglican curate received a general education at Trinity College, Dublin. Goldsmith lived during an important period of change in English theater, the period of Restoration comedy.

He first attracted attention with a series of letters supposedly written by a Chinese traveler and describing London; these were later reprinted as "A Citizen of the World" (1762). Once Goldsmith's authorship of this successful series became in known in London literary circles, he made any influential friends, including Samuel Johnson, the foremost literary figure of the day; Sir Joshua Reynolds, the greatest British painter of the time; and the statesman and orator Edmund Burke.

In 1763 Goldsmith became one of the original nine members of the celebrated literary society known as The Club, of which Johnson was the central figure.

Goldsmith is a mixture of the old and the new. His novel "The Vicar of Wakefield" (1766) begins in dry humor but passes quickly into tearful calamity. In such plays as "She Stoops to Conquer" (1773), Goldsmith, like the younger Richard Brinsley Sheridan in his "School for Scandal" (1777), demonstrates the satirical quality and artistic adroitness that were to be anathema to a younger generation. "She Stoops to Conquer" was an immediate success and remains one of the best-known comedies in the history of British drama.

Restoration comedy dates from 1660 to approximately 1789. During the time of Cromwell (1653-1660), plays had been banned and theaters closed. Restored to the throne, Charles II gave a Royal Charter to build two new theaters, the Dorset Garden and Drury Lane Theater, where Nell Gwynn sold oranges (that's another story). Women played the female roles in elegant costumes, jewels, frills, flounces and feathers.

Restoration comedy was comedy of manners, which developed upon the reopening of the theaters. The dominant tone was witty, bawdy, cynical and amoral. The plays were mainly in prose, with passages of verse for the more romantic moments; the plots were complex and usually double, sometimes triple, though repartee and discussions of marital behavior provide much of the interest, reflecting the fashionable manners of the day.

Standard characters include fops, dandies, bawds, scheming valets, country squires and sexually voracious young widows and older women; the principal theme is sexual intrigue. During the 18th century, the plays were more genteel.

In "She Stoops to Conquer, or The Mistakes of a Night," the principal characters are Hardcastle, who loves "everything that's old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine"; Mrs. Hardcastle, and Miss Hardcastle, their daughter; Mrs. Harcastle's son by a former marriage, Tony Lumpkin, a frequenter of the Three Jolly Pigeons, idle and ignorant, but cunning and mischievous, and doted on by his mother; and young Marlow, "one of the most bashful and reserved young fellows in the world," except with barmaids and servant-girls.

His father, Sir Charles Marlow, has proposed a match between young Marlow and Miss Hardcastle, and the young man and his friend Hastings accordingly travel down to pay the Hardcastles a visit. Losing their way, they arrive at night at the Three Jolly Pigeons, where Tony Lumpkin directs them to a neighboring inn, which is in reality the Hardcastles' house.

The fun of the play arises largely from the resulting misunderstanding, Marlow treating Hardcastle as the landlord of the supposed inn and making violent love to Miss Hardcastle, whom he takes for one of the servants. This contrasts with his bashful attitude when presented to her in her real character. The arrival of Sir Charles Marlow clears up the misconception and all ends well, including a subsidiary love affair between Hastings and Miss Hardcastle's cousin Miss Neville, whom Mrs. Harcastle destines for Tony Lumpkin.

The mistaking of a private residence for an inn was said by Goldsmith's sister Mrs. Hodson to have been founded on an actual incident in his own youth.

According to Dr. George A. Scranton, director of the SPU production, "The thematic concern of 'She Stoops to Conquer' that I wanted to explore addresses the objectifying behavior of Young Marlow toward women-and the humorous process of his transformation as he is laughed into correction.

"The central character is Kate Hardcastle. Her goal after she is told that her father has selected a potential husband for her (but will not force her into any such match) is to win the love of Young Marlow. To do so she must overcome his objectifying behavior toward women and force him to conflate his two disparate methods of treating women as object-either as an idol in untouchable adoration, or as a toy for sensual pleasure-into a healthier relationship with a woman as a person who is his equal, to be loved as a person and a partner. She therefore chooses to 'stoop to conquer' his bashfulness and his brashness by dissimulating as a 'barmaid' to get his attention, and win him by her virtue. All four couples can look forward to being 'crowned with a merry morning' of mutual relationship."

Scranton joined the SPU faculty in 1970 as a professor of theater. He has directed 80 plays, performed in 30 and authored numerous productions over his years at SPU. In addition to his bachelor of arts, master of arts and doctorate, Scranton holds a second masters in theater history and criticism from the University of Washington. He directed and toured with SPU's Chancel Players for 20 years, and wrote many of their performance scripts. He has also worked with the Taproot Theatre Company.

SPU's production is supported by a cast of 23 talented drama students, including Joshua Wood (Sir Charles Marlow), Joshua Smyth (Young Charles), Zachary Olson (Dick Hardcastle), Ryan Putnam (George Hastings), Stephen Bauman (Tony Lumpkin), Bethany Rowlee (Dorothy Hardcastle), Hallette Lancaster (Kate Hardcastle) and Melissa Warren (Constance Neville).

It should be an enjoyable and entertaining production.

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