Wilde in the Wild, Wild West? That’s what first came to my mind when I heard that American director William Brown had taken and adapted Oliver Goldsmith’s eighteenth-century comedy of English manners “She Stoops to Conquer”—to which the more well-known nineteenth-century comedy of English manners “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde owes much for its style and substance—and set it in the American-as-apple pie frontier of Montana circa 1895. And, as if that weren’t enough interpretive verve, the production has been musicalized with American folk music by composer Andrew Hansen and cutesy lyrics (“Join the Western Meadowlark and turn this tale around/Who knows what we’ll stoop to conquer when there’s pleasure to be found”) courtesy of Doug Frew and Patti McKenny. But while Northlight’s production looks good (the actors have been beautifully costumed and the women dazzlingly bejeweled by designer Rachel Anne Healy), and looks occasionally fun thanks to some splendid physical bits, I found myself only mildly entertained—the down-home country drawls adorning the text’s British argot sounding strangely disconcerting to my ear—as well as puzzled as to why more of Hansen’s clever songs weren’t written to replace the miles of witty yet verbose exposition that infamously burden the first half of Goldsmith’s classic play. On the positive side, Brown’s production succeeds in effortlessly emphasizing the Irish author’s concern with class and elitism by keeping the characters of Young Marlowe and Hastings the persnickety Brits they are from the original—sporting highbrow attitudes, thick accents and dapper suits (again, those wonderful costumes)—and dropping them into this Ponderosa world of puckish cowboys and cowgirls. The visual contrast alone is delicious commentary on English class snobbery. I’m likely to be the dissenter from the critical chorus of approvals on this one, as on paper, the concept sounds great. Still, I can’t help but express disappointment for a production that only occasionally sings and improves on the cherished original. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, (847)673-6300. Thu 7:30pm/Fri 8pm/Sat 3 & 8pm/Sun 2:30pm & 7pm/Tue 7:30pm/Wed 1pm & 7:30pm. $34-$54. Through April 29.