By John Lyle Belden and Wendy Carson
It’s too easy to call the Grove Haus, the funky former church building in Indy’s Fountain Square district where Casey Ross puts on her plays, the “Groove House” – because Miss “Uncanny Casey” is so, well, groovy.
And speaking of mildly-outdated but still appropriate words, Ross takes the 1700s Oliver Goldsmith comedy “She Stoops to Conquer” and gives it a groovalicious update.
Like the 18th century, the 1980s were a time of big hair, regretful fashion and wacky music. In the meantime, Florida has become synonymous with rednecks, stupidity and all manner of bizarre behavior. Add these two elements to the script of the classic and slightly bawdy play and you have CRP’s latest entertaining diversion. The tale of arranged marriages (including one between two cousins), mistaken identities, besotted or scheming individuals, and overall confusion meshes well with the chosen setting.
Dick and Dorothy Hardcastle (David Malloy and Ross) own both a home and a motel, sufficiently tacky that one can’t tell one from the other. Dick wants charming daughter Kate (Ann Marie Elloitt) to check out his old friend’s son Marlow (Max Jones), whom they haven’t met, as a potential husband; while Dorothy wants her drunken slacker son Tony (Taylor Cox) to marry his cousin (and Kate’s bestie) Constance (Veronica Orech) to better secure their property, especially the precious jewels that Constance inherited and Dorothy is holding onto as dowry.
Marlow arrives with best friend Hastings (Tyler Gordon), who has cultivated a romance with Constance. From here on, the plot gets twisty, as Tony pranks Marlow into thinking the Hardcastle home is the motel, so the young suitor treats Dick like the hired help and pines for Kate, thinking she is a just a maid and not the lady he was supposed to meet – the girl, in turn, plays along for comic situations that would do the Bard proud. Meanwhile, Hastings and Constance conspire to run away to marry, enlisting Tony’s help in getting the valuable jewels. Everything goes wrong, and, this being a comedy, everything goes right in the end.
The play not only makes use of the small stage at the head of the house, but also the central floor area, with actors occasionally sitting with and talking directly to the audience. This intimate staging not only helps us connect with the action, but also precludes the need for sticking microphones to the actors. This is a refreshing change from most Indy-area community theatre. However, in this environment, enunciation and vocal projection are more critical, and any failings are more noticeable. Opening night only had a few unclear lines, which no doubt have been worked on during this intervening week, and the story was easy to follow.
The stage set is appropriately tacky, with a couple of in-joke posters, and Ross’s sound design includes a lot of snippets of ’80s hits, keeping the mood light and fun.
Under the direction of partner “Fedora Dave” Matthews, Ross makes a welcome return to the boards, exuding gleeful maternal malevolence under a burgundy wig. Elliott is 100 percent pure-cane sweetness; Cox does slackerdom proud; Gordon is suave and valiant; Orech is comically sharp; and Molloy is fun as the blustering patriarch. Also notable is John Garlick, who comes in late in the play as Marlow’s father. Jones does great at his complex character, having to come off as naive, shy and buffoonish, but then win us over as the romantic hero at the end (Elliott-as-Kate’s kind, forgiving nature helps).
The setting doesn’t translate 100 percent, but is close enough when one considers Southern society can be at least as idiosyncratic as Olde England. One reference to pounds instead of dollars sounds out of place, but can be forgiven.
The show has one more weekend, Friday through Sunday at 1001 Hosbrook St. Tickets are $15. Get info at facebook.com/caseyrossproductions and go get your groove on.