Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Vintage farce with a modern nod to the issues of the few “haves” versus the many “have-nots” is on tap at Theatre 57 this week and next as Clio Cast and Crew presents Thornton Wilder’s comedy, The Matchmaker. This inspiration for the hit musical Hello, Dolly! will be familiar to fans of that show, but this play offers interesting, in depth and often hilarious situations that kept Friday’s opening night audience involved throughout the whole three hour running time.
Set in 1880’s New York and Yonkers, the story involves a wealthy merchant who has decided to marry and employs a matchmaker to find him an appropriate candidate. In fact the show opens with Horace Vandergelder getting a shave from Joe Scanlan (JR Nunley) in preparation for his trip to New York to meet “the lady”.
Director Jon R. Coggins does heavy double duty by also playing this irascible character to the hilt. He begins by forbidding the marriage of his niece, Ermengarde (Jennifer Lynn) to an unemployed artist, Ambrose Kemper (Alex Weiss). Instead he will send her away to her aunt in New York and demands that she be accompanied by a hired man, Malachi Stack (Wayne Tagg) and watched over by both Stack and the Cabbie (Pam Beauchamp).
As the irrepressible Mrs. Dolly Levi, Sandy Turner is wonderfully bubbly, crafty, and maternal as she sets out to improve her own situation along with a few others. Turner is cute and conniving and brings a steady hand to her comedy as she tricks her way to her goal.
Two of Mr. Vandergelder’s seriously overworked employees decide to take advantage of the boss’s absence and head to New York themselves for an adventure. Shane Wachowicz plays Cornelius Hackel, the older of the two, and Noah Beauchamp is his young helper, Barnaby Tucker. These two shoulder much of the responsibility for this story’s comic situations.
Act two opens in the millinery shop belonging to Mrs. Irene Molloy (Mattie Speed), the lady Horace is planning to make his wife. This scene trumps Act one with its wealth of slapstick mix-ups and general hysteria caused when Cornelius and Barnaby duck into the shop to escape their boss and are then forced to hide when he approaches. Of course, these two gents ultimately fall in love with Mrs. Molloy and her young assistant, Minnie Fay (Briana McDonald).
On to act three which takes place in an upscale restaurant where Nunley’s portrayal of the “French” waiter Rudolf takes some droll and comic turns. It is here that all of the couples arrive for dinner at the same time and are separated only by a screen. The confusion swirls around the loss of Horace’s wallet (he is unaware) which is then found by Cornelius (to his great delight). There are also some comical exchanges here as Dolly refuses to marry Horace, even though he hasn’t asked her.
Finally, act four takes us to the home of Ermengarde’s aunt, Miss Flora Van Huysen (Kim Norrington) where she and her cook (Samantha Beauchamp) await the niece’s arrival. Aunt Flora has already decided to promote the union with Ambrose, not discourage it, so when Cornelius and a still-disguised Barnaby show up she assumes they are the young couple. More slapstick and confusion reigns aided not a little by the hysterical over-indulged reactions of the Cabbie and Stack as they loll about in the background.
It all works out in the end, of course, and a lesson or two is taught about the impact of money on happiness.
Not at all a small undertaking, this play requires four complete and detailed scene changes. These breaks seemed a bit labor intensive Friday. The final effect each time was impressive, but the time to implement each seemed excessive.
Other technical aspects were well handled. At various times a character steps out to speak directly to the audience and lighting defines these moments nicely. One glitch did occur during the restaurant scene Friday when all of the lights in the theatre suddenly went out – clearly not a planned event. Fortunately, Levi/Turner was quick to comment that the “lights in New York seem to have gone out”. They came back on quickly, and the house roundly applauded her impromptu filler.
Okay, it’s long, but The Matchmaker is good fun and worth spending an evening in Clio to enjoy. It continues at Theatre 57, 2220 W. Vienna Road, Clio, MI today and May 6 & 7 at 7:30 pm and May 1 & 8 at 2:30 pm. For tickets and information call the box office at 810-687-2588.