Southwest Shakespeare's She Stoops to Conquer in Mesa Is Tedious and Good-Looking -- Think Richard Gere's Private Life

she stoops.jpg
Stacey Walston
Jesse James Kamps and Janae Thomas in She Stoops to Conquer
The setup: Like pretty much every other theater with "Shakespeare" in its name, Mesa's Southwest Shakespeare Company peppers each season with plays written by other people. They're usually referred to as "classical." Some companies also present newer shows that are Shakespeare-related or -inspired, and SSC has been doing quite a bit of Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde lately, as well, with mixed results.

One of the criteria that appear to mean "classical" is "centuries old, with an English script available." Many of us were required to read plays of this nature in college.

Some old classics are much better live, off the page, even today. Others, despite their historical and literary importance, can be quite a slog. Oliver Goldsmith's 1773 hit She Stoops to Conquer, Southwest Shakespeare's current production, is a huge milestone in the development of English comedy that now teeters on the brink of irredeemable fustiness.

See also:
- A Christmas Carol from Southwest Shakespeare Is Virtually Sold Out in Mesa and Worth the Trouble
- Shakespeare at the Biltmore: The Importance of Being Earnest and A Midsummer Night's Dream
- Curtains: Southwest Shakespeare's Blithe Spirit Is Blithe and Spirited, Thank God

The execution: Not every piece of old literature that was popular in its day is equal. We use language much differently and expect quite different qualities in our entertainment from our 18th-century counterparts, and not every author's work is capable of entirely surmounting those obstacles.

What you'll notice almost immediately about the script of She Stoops to Conquer is that, although just about everything the characters say sounds familiar and understandable (and this ensemble does a phenomenal job of delivering the dialogue and its intended meanings), they say everything about four times per speech, introduce the same bits of exposition over and over, and in general seem to be compensating for a hypothetical audience that's mostly drunk and distracted (which might be why I could swear I remember enjoying this show on a date in my early 20s).

Though a couple of the cast are so charming it almost doesn't matter, most of the company appears to be obeying orders to go nice and slowly to make sure we get everything. This takes them 2.5 hours, including intermission, and if you're having fun, that's nothing, but if life in a theater seat teaches one anything, it's that you can convince yourself you're smack in the middle of dying of something mysterious if you're stuck not having fun for that long.

The bits of fun come mostly from Jesse James Kamps as Tony Lumpkin, who has always been the most beloved character in She Stoops, to the extent that another writer altogether went ahead and wrote a sequel about him. Lumpkin is a fun-loving, slovenly, appetite-driven, insouciant, unsophisticated but not stupid catalyst of high jinks aplenty.

Kamps throws himself so energetically into Lumpkin that I kept thinking, "I know which actor this is, and I know I've seen him before, but I don't recognize him." He appears three times the size of anyone else on stage, and most of that is rooted in performance (not just his, but those of his scene-mates by contrast, which, though deliberate and virtually inherent in the text, may contribute to the show's problems).

Location Info

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Mesa Arts Center

1 E. Main St., Mesa, AZ

Category: General

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4 comments
marywayinjapanUkUSA
marywayinjapanUkUSA

Great to hear it! Agreed. Also...restoration note little "r", not referencing the period. As for the Cats reference, it is vintage SNL derivative nomenclature. You can start breathing again. I did read past the headline, it is the very reason I chose to respond with my own comments. Headlines are key (that is why they are at the top of the page) and this specific headline put several people I know off of seeing a perfectly delightful piece of comedy that did not seem "tedious" to me. I do agree it was good-looking, a triumph for a state that is at the bottom of the list ( 50th of 50 ) for public arts spending.

Roll on Kevin Kline... Who will be reprising "Pirates of Penzance" at Shakespeare in the Park in NYC the very next week. Seeing him in Mesa is a great opportunity to get a jump on the New York Public Theater.

marywayinjapanUkUSA
marywayinjapanUkUSA

Great to hear it! Agreed. Also...restoration note little "r", not referencing the period. As for the Cats reference, it is vintage SNL derivative nomenclature. You can start breathing again. I did read past the headline, it is the very reason I chose to respond with my own comments. Headlines are key (that is why they are at the top of the page) and this specific headline put several people I know off of seeing a perfectly delightful piece of comedy that did not seem "tedious" to me. I do agree it was good-looking, a triumph for a state that is at the bottom of the list ( 50th of 50 ) for public arts spending. Roll on Kevin Kline... Who will be reprising "Pirates of Penzance" at Shakespeare in the Park in NYC the very next week. Seeing him in Mesa is a great opportunity to get a jump on the New York Public Theater.

JuliePeterson
JuliePeterson

@marywayinjapanUkUSAYou are off by about six decades about She Stoops being a Restoration comedy, and "better than Cats" made me stop breathing for a moment. But I'm pleased and grateful you shared your opinions, with most of which I don't disagree. (Yes, it's difficult, yes, the cast was strong, yes, the sets and costumes were fantastic -- did you read anything other than the headline?)

I'm truly glad you and your date enjoyed the show, and I think people should support the company as well. They do some really fine shows and, as I said, it's important to have a classical theater.

Kevin Kline is an old friend of Southwest Shakespeare's director, and he was here last year, too. To help them fundraise. His visit on June 1 is a performance of his own one-man show (not really a role he had an option to "decline"). It should be great! Info and tickets here: http://www.mesaartscenter.com/index.php/shows/theater/kevinklineinhethatplaysaneveningofshakespeare

marywayinjapanUkUSA
marywayinjapanUkUSA

I suspect either the production improved vastly since the writing of this review, or the reviewer and I differ wildly. This is an extremely difficult restoration piece of theater expertly rendered by some of Phoenix's best talent. Difficult, difficult, difficult, did I mention difficult? Yet the words ( and there are a lot of them ) came to life in the context of the actors antics. I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats. This is precisely why we should rejoice that we have a theater company able to take on the truly challenging pieces of classical text, unafraid. Neither I nor my ADHD date, who is 6'5" and does not normally sit comfortably in a theater, felt it was long... And might consider seeing it again. Hesitated to bring friends because of this review, and now thoroughly regret it. The sets were ingenious and handsome as were the costumes, and all on a shoestring. The cast was superb. Not a weak link among them. Long live Southwest Shakespeare... And woe be unto communities ( and critics ) who cannot support their truly commendable classical theater companies. It does not bode well for them. PLUS Tickets are so cheap we dare not complain! A gift to those of limited means: theater for the people. Oh, and I noticed on the way out, Kevin Kline will be putting in a guest appearance in June. If its good enough for the man they call Kevin 'Decline', I suspect it's good! Please support this wonderful theater company without hesitation or regret, Mary Way

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