Horace Vandergelder is in need of a wife, someone to run his house with order, comfort and economy. It’s woman’s work, but she won’t do it well if she is merely being paid for it. “Marriage is a bribe to make a housekeeper think she’s a householder.” And thus begins one of the best known stories on the stage: Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, that wonderful play about a meddling self-proclaimed matchmaker named Dolly Gallagher Levi. The story itself actually dates all the way back to Roman times, but these days you may best recognize it in its musical form, Hello, Dolly!
While searching for a wife for Horace, Dolly Levi sets her own sights on the gentleman and proceeds to turn his life upside down in her attempt to make him see just how right they are for each other. We meet so many unforgettable characters, including Barnaby Tucker, Cornelius Hackl, Irene Malloy and Minnie Fay, spend a day of adventure with them in New York. Mistaken identities, secret meetings, distraught lovers and even an eccentric aunt ensure that everyone will find something to chuckle about in this classic piece of theatre.
Saturday evening I had the opportunity to see the GreenMan Theatre Troupe perform this old standard. The GreenMan Theatre Troupe performs at the First United Methodist Church in Elmhurst and as such they need to keep their set and tech relatively low-key. Sometimes this works well, sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, I was very impressed with the opening set for scene one. Warm colors, period appropriate furnishings, minimal but effective. The only complaint I had was the frame holding the money was far too prominent and far too modern. It distracted me and didn’t blend with the rest of the set. However, throughout the show I was generally impressed with the use of the space and the use of triangular flats as the backdrop for each scene.
I was also impressed by most of the women’s hairstyles, especially Dolly’s. I couldn’t find who to congratulate for hair and makeup in the program, but I know those hairstyles are not easy to replicate well and they deserve a bit of recognition. Costuming was also done effectively (Benjamin Vargas), as well as Lighting (Jim Ocasek) and Sound (Rob Rebecchi).
Several performances were well worth individual mentions. Dolly Levi (Mary Pavia) commands the stage each time she enters and brings a lot of interest in her wake. I felt Pavia had the best developed character of the evening and enjoyed her energy throughout the production. Another bright star was Irene Malloy (Elizabeth Owlsey), who brought a lovely grace to each scene she was in. I also enjoyed the role of Malachi Stack (Stan Kosek). Stack was easy and natural with a charisma that helped draw out his character.
Of course, there are always a few things I would have done differently. While one can’t deny that there is a tremendous bit of energy on stage from all of the actors, I can’t help but point out (once again) that over-acting doesn’t equal energy. And there was really quite a bit of over-acting happening. The key (well, one of the keys, anyway) to believable acting is to not emphasize every. single. word. Too often we, as actors, get overwhelmed with figuring out what is the intent of each line and suddenly we want to make each syllable important. A writer may very well believe every word he has written is important, and we should strive to make sure we say each line precisely how he wrote it. However, in real life we don’t emphasize every sentence. We pull back when we are unsure of what we’re saying, we take time to construct our next thought, we rush ahead when we get excited. We have levels. I didn’t feel very many levels Saturday evening. I wanted more time for Irene and Cornelius to explore their initial attraction, less time for Stack and the cab man to banter, more thought in Horace’s address to the audience, less drama in Miss Van Huysen’s eccentricities. Just because Dolly and all of her cohorts have passed into legendary status doesn’t mean we should play them any less real. I felt the script lost some of its quirky authenticity because the characters became far too one-dimensional. There was room for more emotional exploration than in just Dolly’s touching scene near the end.
Overall, this was a well-rehearsed and energetic performance of a very funny script that the audience seemed to really enjoy. It’s a bit of fun and great to see the original play such an iconic musical was based on. It could use some tweeking and more character development, but I think you will enjoy the script and enthusiasm this theatre company exudes.
The Matchmaker is presented by the GreenMan Theatre Troupe in downtown Elmhurst and runs through May 6, 2012. For more information and tickets, visit their website here.