Arts Club Theatre Company
The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder

Dates and Venue January 24–February 24, 2019, Tue–Thu at 7:30pm, Fri & Sat at 8pm, Wed at 1:30pm, and Sat at Sun at 2pm & 8pm and Sun at 2pm | Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, Granville Street

Director Ashlie Corcoran Choreography Shelley Stewart Hunt Set & Costume Design Drew Facey Lighting Design Alan Brodie Sound Designer Mishelle Cuttler Dialect Coach Adam Henderson Stage Manager Pamela Jakobs

Reviewer John Jane

The Matchmaker is a turn of the (twentieth) century farce by Pulitzer prize-winning writer Thornton Wilder. Initially set in Yonkers, the action and entire cast quickly move to New York City. The play is divided into four acts: Horace Vandegelder's home in Yonkers, Widow Irene Molloy’s millinery, Harmonia Gardens, a New York eatery and wealthy socialite Flora Van Huysen’s home.

Long before online dating became acceptable, people who didn’t get out much would engage the services of a matchmaker. Usually a woman, the matchmaker would arrange formal introductions between single folks at a comparative social level. This story's premise has a widow who brokers marriages and various other transactions in Yonkers, New York. She sets her sights on local merchant Horace Vandergelder, who has hired her to find him a wife. In a series of confusing situations that involve mistaken identities and a secret rendezvous, the widow convinces the wealthy widower that it was always his idea.

Director Ashlie Corcoran leaves nothing behind in this quality Arts Club production. Her justified reliance on extravagantly elegant props and clothing evoke a world that has gone for good. The well-constructed, elegant architecture, designed Drew Facey follows each act to a different location.

The play’s musical offspring Hello, Dolly is arguably now more famous, though, it’s unlikely that Wilder had much of an objection, since he adapted his work from Johann Nestroy farcical play The Merchant of Yonkers. Ms. Corcoran has wisely returned to the playwright’s basic ‘live life a little’ concept, allowing the talented cast to perform, more the most part, a good old romp.

Nicola Lipman is a serious actress whose considerable comedic capability is grounded in vulnerability and craft. Lipman as the eponymous matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi anchors the play. Naomi Wright is a force of nature as indomitable milliner Irene Molloy and manages to look cool in some of Drew Facey’s most offbeat clothing.

Tyrone Savage takes on the bulk of goofy physical shtick as Vandegelder's ambitious chief clerk Cornelius Hackl, though, his ambitions aren’t necessarily what his employer is looking for. Daniel Doheny, who, on this stage last Summer, was inspiring as Christopher Boone in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, shows that he can do madcap as well as anyone as Cornelius’ wingman Barnaby. I would like to have seen more of Laura Leung, who is appropriately coquettish as Ermengarde.

The production uses a theatrical device that allows characters to break the fourth wall and supplement the basic narrative. Scott Bellis’s contribution as Vandegelder's fixer Malachi is hilarious, while Lipman’s cerebration on fiscal eudemonia had particular resonance.

I would have to say that I enjoyed the first half more than the second half. The precise physical comedy in the first two acts ultimately gives way to comic mayhem in the fourth. In the final act Nora McLellan is allowed to virtually steal the show in an over-the-top performance in the role of Flora Van Huysen.

Thornton Wilder’s silly story is not quite a masterpiece, but it does remind us to “go out and have fun and worry later.”

© 2019 John Jane