By Thornton Wilder. Directed by Ashlie Corcoran. An Arts Club Theatre production. At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Wednesday, January 30. Continues until February 24
Not everything in The Matchmaker makes sense in the 21st century. But there is so much sheer energy in this lively production that it’s hard not to give yourself over to its silliness, witless as it sometimes is.
At the heart of Thornton Wilder’s 1955 script, which provided the inspiration for popular musical Hello, Dolly!, is Horace Vandergelder, a wealthy but tightfisted businessman in late-19th-century Yonkers, New York. He’s dead set against letting his niece, Ermengarde, marry the artist Ambrose Kemper, but he is seeking a wife for himself with the help of self-appointed matchmaker Mrs. Dolly Levi, who has her own designs on Vandergelder and his money.
As the main players head from Yonkers to New York City, Vandergelder’s long-suffering clerks, Cornelius Hackl and Barnaby Tucker, decide to take a day off and have an adventure in the big city as well, Cornelius resolving not to return until he has kissed a girl. When they enter a millinery shop owned by Mrs. Irene Molloy, whom Horace is considering marrying, things get extremely complicated.
The play’s conventions are more than a little creaky and the sexual politics archaic: “Marriage is a bribe to make a housekeeper believe that she’s a house owner,” Horace tells us. Hilarious.
But full marks to the excellent cast, who, under Ashlie Corcoran’s direction, pour their whole bodies into the show’s farce. Nicola Lipman’s Dolly stirs multiple pots with a knowing confidence, while Ric Reid’s Horace is both an obstinate tyrant and a sulky child. Naomi Wright’s Mrs. Molloy blossoms into increasingly reckless abandon, while Georgia Beaty excels as her goofy, hysterical sidekick, Minnie Fay.
Tyrone Savage and Daniel Doheny give Cornelius and Barnaby an openhearted innocence, and their commitment to the physical comedy of the piece creates some of the evening’s funniest moments. Scott Bellis is another standout as Malachi Stack, Horace’s tippling fixer. Wilder’s script contains several moments in which characters address the audience directly; Malachi’s is the only one that works, because Bellis brings us into his confidence so expertly, offering aperçu-like “There’s nothing like eavesdropping to show you that life outside your head is very different from life inside it,” punctuated by a slug from his flask.
And, very late in the play, along comes Nora McLellan’s Miss Flora Van Huysen. McLellan, wielding a hand fan, is so deliriously over-the-top that the ceiling of the Stanley seems to lift a couple of feet to accommodate her master class in absurdity.
Drew Facey’s set is a series of confections, with three ornate circular upstage panels resembling an exploded compact mirror. The staid striped wallpaper of Horace’s house gives way to the colourful sky out the window of the millinery shop and then the vivid greenery of a restaurant patio. The sets are all gorgeous, but the changes take a while, and the stage business that covers them is tedious. Facey’s costumes are equally eye-popping, bursting with loud floral patterns and inexplicably huge bustles on the women’s dresses. Mishelle Cuttler’s music climbs to the same heights of silliness as the plot.
Subtle? No. But if you want to see a company eagerly embracing the ridiculous, here you go.