Written more than 200 years ago, Oliver Goldsmith's British comedy of manners "She Stoops to Conquers" endures perhaps for one simple reason:
It remains funny to see a clever woman show a not-quite-as-clever man just how much he loves her.
Melanie Whipple gives a sparkling performance as that clever woman, Kate, in a Mad Cow Theatre production directed by Katrina Ploof.
It's an over-loud production with some rough edges, but the many jokes about social status, domineering mothers and the battle between the sexes land frequently and firmly.
The story has Shakespearean comic overtones in its mistaken identities and misplaced love. Charles Marlow is on his way to meet Kate Hardcastle. Their fathers, old friends, hope the youngsters will make a match. But Charles is notoriously shy among romantic interests — though he's quite smooth with servant-class women.
Charles and his friend George are waylaid by Kate's troublemaker brother, Tony, who convinces them the Hardcastle home is an inn. Consequently, Charles treats Kate's father like a common innkeeper, while Kate disguises herself as a barmaid to woo him.
A subplot tackles the romantic travails of George, in love with Kate's cousin Constance. But Tony's mother has plans for Constance to marry her son.
Brian Brightman deftly plays Charles, a tricky part, with believable amounts of stammering insecurity when facing a suitor and smug self-assurance when romancing a social inferior.
As George and Constance, Kevin Zepf and Elizabeth Takacs are winningly charming. Takacs puts some gravitas into a light role when her stricken face conveys her fear of being married to someone she doesn't love or sent away to live with a distant relation.
Karel Wright and Stephan Lima as mother and son are merry mischief makers. Her face scrunches up like she's sucking a lemon when one her schemes goes awry, and he breaks into a wide grin when observing the mayhem he has caused.
As Kate's befuddled and enraged father, Tommy Keesling is funnier the louder his angry rants. Yet, the love he has for his daughter is written all over his face.
It unfairly detracts from his engaging performance when half the cast seems to be shouting at the same decibel level he is. Comedies such as this can bubble along lightly, but this one roars like a steamroller.
There's also some slipperiness with accents — which are important in a play about social class in Britain.
Whipple does a fine job of switching between her upper-crust accent and her barmaid's screech. But Lima sounds strangely downmarket for a country squire, and Wright abandons her accent altogether toward play's end.
A song-and-dance epilogue added in modern times is mildly amusing but isn't particularly necessary. Goldsmith's wit can speak for itself.
Matthew J. Palm can be reached at 407-420-5038 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
See for yourself
•What: 'She Stoops to Conquer,' a Mad Cow Theatre production of the Oliver Goldsmith comedy
•When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, Nov. 29 and Dec. 13; 2 p.m. Sundays; through Dec. 19.
•Where: Mad Cow Theatre, 105 S. Magnolia Ave., Orlando
•Tickets: $27; $25 students and seniors; $15 on Nov. 29 and Dec. 13