By Shaul Ezer. Directed by Sarah Phillips. Presented by Matchmaker Productions. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Thursday, May 23. Continues until June 2
The play is empty. But a talented interpretive crew does its best.
In the comedy The Matchmaker of Montréal, playwright Shaul Ezer tells the story of a gold digger named Elise. Elise dumps her husband because he’s not rich, then, on the advice of professional matchmaker Martha, she attends the funeral of a wealthy old man’s wife, and bags the multibillionaire as her second husband. He dies right on cue, leaving Elise in clover. But she refuses to pay Martha’s exorbitant bill and the matchmaker seeks revenge.
Neither Martha nor Elise is particularly attractive—Elise for obvious reasons, Martha because she turns down the love of a perfectly nice lawyer and politician named David. She makes little sounds of torment as she tells him that she can’t be a politician’s wife and refuses to let him give up politics, but Ezer sketches Martha’s emotional world so perfunctorily that her supposed vulnerability looks like foolishness.
The script skips through its plot points without finding much meaning. Elise makes donations to charity to gain social status and another society matron gets miffed. So what? Elise’s deceptions are exposed, but her public humiliation has no impact on the subsequent action. And the climax is built on a stack of unlikely coincidences.
Things get more interesting—and more problematic—with the play’s take on women and money. Martha is a successful businessperson. But at one point, Canada’s economy is threatened because the country’s females start to imitate Elise’s conservative investment strategies. And the resolution turns on the notion that, for the story to end happily, husbands must control their wives’ finances.
Still, the actors give it their all. Lisa Bunting delivers a buoyant and focused Martha. Robert Moloney brings gusto to a number of male roles, including a charmingly flamboyant Québécois guy. And Juno Ruddell delivers the most interesting work of the evening as socialite Chantal Dumaurier, and especially as Martha’s assistant Sylvana. The play is written in simple conceptual blocks, and Ruddell’s subtle sense of absurdity—a kind of grounded ditziness—adds welcome shading and surprise.
Director Sarah Phillips keeps things crisp and stylistically coherent. And costumer Christopher David Gauthier makes both Martha and Elise look terrifically tailored.
The biggest laugh comes with a reference to a Senate appointment. But that laugh looks accidental and involves no critique.