- Title: The Matchmaker
- Written by: Thornton Wilder
- Director: Ashlie Corcoran
- Starring: Nicola Lipman and Ric Reid
- Company: Arts Club Theatre Company
- Venue: Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage
- City: Vancouver
- Year: Continuing until Feb. 24
I’m glad The Matchmaker wasn’t a live TV special, because if it had been, I would have hit the off button after the first few minutes. And If I had done that, I would have missed the delights that followed – truly hilarious moments, some very fine performances and a big payoff in the second act. But man, it took a while to get there.
The Matchmaker, Thornton Wilder’s fourth-wall-breaking, Tony-winning play (for best director, the Stratford Festival’s founding artistic director Tyrone Guthrie), premiered in 1954 in Edinburgh and on Broadway in 1955. Set in the 1880s, it was a revised (and retitled) version of Wilder’s 1938 Broadway flop The Merchant of Yonkers. And it became the source material for the blockbuster musical Hello, Dolly!, which starred the recently deceased Carol Channing on Broadway and Barbra Streisand in the film adaptation. (You’re hearing that song in your head now, aren’t you?)
This production, which opened at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage in Vancouver on Wednesday, is directed by the Arts Club Theatre Company’s newish artistic director Ashlie Corcoran. And it’s a hoot – eventually.
Dolly Gallagher Levi (Nicola Lipman) is the eponymous matchmaker, hired by the wealthy Yonkers, N.Y., merchant Horace Vandergelder (Ric Reid) to find him a love match. Dolly, a widow, has the perfect match for Horace, but she keeps her plan to herself while using her considerable smarts to bring Horace onside with her scheme, never telling him what it is.
Because Horace has decided to marry Irene Molloy (Naomi Wright), who runs a New York hat shop. To delay the proposal and buy time to persuade Horace to fall in love with the right person, Dolly invents a fictional perfect match for Horace she knows he will find tremendously appealing.
I don’t want to spoil the many zigzags through the zany plot, but it is a chaotic farce with a big brain, and contemporary resonance.
As the play opens, Horace is utterly opposed to the romantic ambitions of his niece Ermengarde (Julie Leung), who has fallen for – gasp – an artist, Ambrose Kemper (Nadeem Phillip). On opening night, there were a lot of what I perceived as aspirational laughs from a generous audience who really wanted to find the show funny. But the wheels of comedy were grinding slowly; things felt pretty flat.
Then, with the introduction of Horace’s impish employees Cornelius Hackl (Tyrone Savage) and Barnaby Tucker (Daniel Doheny) – who are both utterly hilarious – and the wonderful Scott Bellis as Horace’s boozy new hire Malachi Stack, and especially Dolly herself, the comedy momentum got going. While the show was inconsistent overall, there were enough laughs to keep things moving.
Corcoran has dreamed up a marvellous way to move her characters between Yonkers and New York City, and there are some mostly successful high-traffic set pieces in the show (which has a large cast of 14).
There’s a scene in the first act in which Cornelius tries to conceal his presence that is a triumph of physical comedy, and Nora McLellan as Flora steals the show in the second act. I also loved Georgia Beaty as hat-shop assistant Minnie Fay.
Drew Facey’s set is ingenious – bold and colourful and very pretty to look at – but one door kept malfunctioning the night I saw it to the point of distraction.
The referencing of contemporary songs (Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys, and Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York) along with oldies (When I’m Sixty-Four) and real oldies (Beer Barrel Polka) underscores the fact that the issues dealt with in the play, such as extreme financial inequality and misogyny – and that still often elusive search for love, even in the age of Tinder – remain topical today.
Horace, who has just turned 60, has some guffaw-inspiring ideas about women, such as “marriage is a bribe to make a housekeeper feel like she is a householder.” But joke’s on him: The smartest person in the room is Dolly, played by Lipman for much more than laughs. Dolly has street smarts, emotional intelligence and wisdom. She knows that the most expensive luxury in the world is the future, and that money is like manure: It must be spread in order to encourage things to grow.
And when the youngest character is called upon to deliver the moral of the story at the end, we feel hope for that luxurious future, and leave the theatre fuelled by a calling for an adventure of our own. Or, at the very least, still chuckling – and hey, these days, that feels like a luxury, too.