Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer is a simple, hearty, good-natured play, and thus easy enough to stage, one would think: All you have to do is be true to the play’s own good nature. Oddly, this seems to be exactly what Charlotte Moore, directing the Irish Rep’s new production, has set out to avoid. Apparently confusing the play’s late-18th-century ambience and its high-comedy manner with its substance, she’s staged a performance that alternates the ornately style-conscious with the sullenly indistinct. Everyone seems to be wildly overacting when they should be straightforward, and underplaying meekly just when you want them to roister like crazy.
It’s sad because Goldsmith’s puckish comedy, in which a genteel young man who can’t talk straight except to women of a lower class is duped into mistaking his prospective bride’s house for a wayside inn, still has enough built-in laughs to roll it merrily to its happy ending. And the sadness is doubled because Moore’s cast, richly togged out in lush period costumes by Linda Fisher, includes actors who could make sense of its delights handily if the direction were refocused, like Remak Ramsay, Jennifer Bryan, and Danielle Ferland. Some of the delights, indeed, are still there, but the dread word classic has taken too many of them away.