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UI Theater closes with She Stoops for the semester's last performance

BY EMMA MCCLATCHEY | APRIL 18, 2013 5:00 AM

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While maneuvering through the complex ins and outs of online dating, director Kristin Clippard found inspiration in a rather unlikely source: the 18th-century comedy She Stoops to Conquer, by Irish author Oliver Goldsmith.

“There are actually a lot of unspoken rules out there regarding dating,” she said. “As I was reading this play, I realized, even though this took place 240 years ago, there’s still a lot of game-playing that you have to negotiate and navigate your way around.”

She Stoops to Conquer, or The Mistakes of a Night first performed in 1773 — will be presented as the newest University of Iowa Mainstage Production, opening at 8 p.m. Friday in the UI Theater Building Mabie Theater. Although it is a period piece, the cast and crew said, you can expect to see some distinctly 2013 influences in the costumes, music, and movement.

“I’m not interested in doing museum pieces,” Clippard said. “I want plays to breathe, because they are living things. My goal in modernizing parts of it is so students, particularly those who don’t go to theater often, will see something that pops.”

This “mash-up” of time periods is primarily reflected in the costuming, Clippard said. Costume designer Melissa Gilbert said she maintained some of the silhouettes of the Georgian era — including puffy skirts and sleeves and exaggerated hip extenders — but added modern styles, such as denim shorts, TOMS shoes, and neon stilettos, leggings, and suits.

“The story has so many great levels — the people from the city dress vastly different from those in the country, but they’re dressed differently from their parents,” Gilbert said. “I did a lot of research into high fashion, and we did lots of shopping at the mall. I think quite often theater doesn’t get the chance to be this fun.”

Categorized as a comedy of manners, satire, farce, and romantic comedy all in one, She Stoops to Conquer follows the fashionable Kate Hardcastle, who, in order to earn the humble affections of the stuttering Charles Marlow, “stoops” to the level of a common maid. Comical pitfalls involving mistaken identity, class confusion, and generational differences ensue from this one-night quest to conquer love.

“I think everyone’s had that situation where they really, really like someone and are overblown with nerves, trying to do their best to impress her,” said Luke Millington-Drake, who plays Young Charles.

Allyson Malandra, who portrays Kate in the play, agreed, finding the “corny” aspects of the show to be the most valuable.

“So many things from two and a half centuries ago are still relevant today,” she said. “We still have that awkward first meeting with the parents, or if you go out on a blind date, how does that pan out, or do you get awkward around people who you find really attractive or who have a higher social standing than you — all of those things.”

The play is also made more accessible by incorporating subtle modern elements such as clutch purses in lieu of fans, Esquire and Vanity Fair magazines in place of books, and the addition of four original indie rock/folksongs to the show, performed by actors and a contemporarily dressed onstage band.

“Goldsmith had intended music to be a part of it, but I felt like one song was not enough,” Clippard said. “I was really inspired by lines of the play to add more. I think music is a really great way to highlight some of the themes and bring a lot of life into the play.”

Through the crazily colored costumes, bustling song-and-dance numbers, slapstick comedy, and cockney accents, Millington-Drake said, the heart of She Stoops to Conquer is its honest representation of romance, which spans the centuries.

“The ultimate message we’re trying to get across is love is timeless and so powerful,” Millington-Drake said. “Hopefully, [the audience members] will want to come out of it and have their boyfriend or girlfriend hold their hand and say, ‘Yes, I do love you.’ ”


What: She Stoops to Conquer
When: 8 p.m. April 19, 20, 25-27 & 2 p.m., April 21
Where: Theater Building Mabie Theater
Admission: $5-$17


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