Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The Matchmaker is set in the 1880s, when a proper man and woman needed someone to introduce them, arrange their meetings, and monitor the progress of their courtship. The first scene takes place in a Yonkers feed and hardware store owned by prosperous widower Horace Vandergelder. Horace has decided he is ready to remarry, not so much for love as to have a wife to keep his life in order. His late wife's dear friend Dolly Gallagher Levi, herself a widow, is his matchmaker. Horace already has someone in mind, a lovely New York City milliner named Irene Malloy. Irene is interested in Horace, not for love, but for the security he can offer. However, Dolly has her own agenda and it comes as little surprise that her aim is to marry Horace herself for reasons that are revealed before the play winds up.
Horace's niece Ermengarde, who is in his care, wants to marry an artist, a match her uncle is dead set against. Sympathizing with the young lovers, Dolly connives to help them overcome Horace's resistance. Horace's two clerks, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, are a pair of innocents whose long hours and low pay keep them forever moored to the shopuntil, when their boss sets off for New York City in order to make a proposal to Miss Malloy, the two young gents pool their money and hop a train to New York City, to at last have an adventure.
In the manner of classic farce, all of these characters, and others, cross paths in New York: at Irene's hat shop, at the posh Harmonia Gardens restaurant, and at the home of Flora Van Huysen, another friend of the late Mrs. Vandergelder. There are all manner of merry mix-ups, some orchestrated by the clever Dolly, some totally unplanned. The ending could not be more satisfying for everyoneboth on stage and in the audience.
If the plot or character names sound familiar, it is likely because The Matchmaker is the basis of the musical Hello, Dolly!. With no disrespect to that deservedly renowned tuner, the play holds its own very nicely without song and dance ... well, there is a bit of dancing, as the characters pair off, but not a chorus or dance ensemble in sight, nor are they missed.
Director Craig Johnson keeps the action moving non-stop, drawing out every rich vein of humor, while also casting light on the tenderness in these characters. There are marvelous moments in each scene when a character, alone on stage, addresses the audience directly, justifying their position. Johnson seamlessly works these moments into the narrative flow, with no loss of momentum. Between scenes one and two, the audience watches cast members swiftly change the setting on the thrust stage from Vandergelder's store to Irene Malloy's hat shop, and between scenes three and four we are treated to two actors' costuming transformationsa maître de becomes a cabbie, and a gypsy accordionist becomes Flora's cook. Bringing us into the workings of theater in this way allows the audience to be in on the playmaking, and contributes to the splendid giddiness of the occasion.
Dolly is a plum role for any actress, and Karen Wiese-Thompson squeezes every drop of juice from that ripe fruit. This fine character actress conveys shrewd confidence, a generous spirit, and the ability to find joy in the madness of living. Having decided that she is ready to remarry, Dolly addresses her late husband Ephraim in a soliloquy that displays her dual nature, both practical and romantic. Alan Sorenson is a pitch-perfect blustery, hard-nosed Horace Vandergelder, a man who believes he knows what he wants, yet is unaware how manipulated he is both by the mores of society and the wiles of Dolly.
Lindsay Marcy is spirited as Irene Malloy, resigned to accept a future based on security, but ready to jump at the chance for something more passionate. Christian Bardin is wonderfully funny as Irene's breathlessly simple-minded assistant, Minnie Fay. Don Hopman as Cornelius Hackl wears his heart on his sleeve as he years for adventure before his chances fade. Hopman's tender-hearted earnestness is heard in his voice and written on his face. His partner in adventure, Barnaby Tucker, is played by Vincent Hannam with charming naiveté. Sam Landman as the low-life Malachi Stack, Elizabeth Hawkinson as simpering Ermengarde, Sam Pearson as her beloved Ambrose, and Kirby Bennet as flighty Flora Van Huysen all impress, while Dana Lee Thompson and David Beukema hit comedic targets in multiple roles.
The sets designed by Rick Polenek are composed of old-fashioned backdrops rolled down at the rear of the thrust stage, along with furnishings carried in and out, all framed by atmospheric streetscapes of 1880s Yonkers and New York City. Kathy Kohl has created lovely apparel with flounces and fussiness that convey the bygone days. Katherine Horowitz provides a wide array of sound cues, such as boys playing ball, horses neighing and exploding tomatoes, that punctuate the scenes.
It may be of interest to Minnesota audiences that the original production of The Matchmaker premiered on Broadway in 1957, directed by Tyrone Guthrie, founder of our own fabled Guthrie Theater. For his efforts, Mr. Guthrie won the 1957 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play.
Wilder's play is laden with moments of geniuswitty aphorisms, such as "People that's et onions is bad judges of who's et onions and who ain't," or "The future is the most expensive of all luxuries"; madcap physical humor; and words spoken tenderly from the heartall wrapped up with a moral at the end. The Matchmaker is a honey of a play, and Girl Friday Productions has polished it to a glossy shine.
The Matchmaker, presented by Girl Friday Productions, continues at Park Square Theatre's Boss Stage through July 26, 2015. 20 West Seventh Place, Saint Paul, MN, 55102. Tickets: $25.00. Discounts for seniors, students and Fringe button holders are available. For tickets call 651-291-7005 or go to parksquaretheatre.org.
Writer: Thornton Wilder; Director: Craig Johnson; Scenic Design: Rick Polenek; Costume Design: Kathy Kohl; Lighting Design and Technical Director: Dietrich Poppen; Sound Design: Katherine Horowitz; Properties Design: Sarah Holmberg; Dramaturg: Kit Gordon; Assistant Director: Brian Columbus; Stage Manager: Penny Laden Kissinger; Producer: Kirby Bennet
Cast: Christian Bardin (Minnie Fay), Kirby Bennet (Flora Van Huysen), David Beukema (Joe Scanlon, Cabman, Rudolph), Vincent Hannam (Barnaby Tucker), Elizabeth Hawkinson (Ermengarde), Dan Hopman (Cornelius Hackl), Sam Landman (Malachi Stack), Lindsay Marcy (Irene Molloy), Sam Pearson (Ambrose Kemper), Alan Sorenson (Horace Vandergelder), Dana Lee Thompson (Gertrude, August, Gypsy, Cook), Karen Wiese-Thompson (Dolly Gallagher Levi).