Those who think "The Matchmaker" little more than "Hello, Dolly!" without singing, might want to check out this mounting of the 1955 Broadway script.
Thornton Wilder’s comedy has a charm all its own. Its characters have more edges, and the situation, while still a happy one, borders more on the possibilities of darkness. The play deserves to be kept apart in memory from its more famous musical counterpart.
Director Roger DeLaurier gives the simple tale about couples jumping over obstacles to seek love a lightness and loveliness that goes beyond the musical version’s sometimes heavy-handedness. He makes the play a fun position paper. We tend to think of "The Matchmaker" as conservative, but it’s actually an advocate for living dangerously. Too much safety can lead to hardening of the arteries, it seems to be saying.
This plea for big living is aided considerably by the starring presence of that life force called actress Leslie Brott. Apart from dominating the stage as any Dolly must, Brott gets us to see the insecurities beneath the bravado. We understand the loneliness that drives the outward cheerfulness, and as a result, we’re seduced by the story anew.
Dan Kremer is a perfect foil as the obscenely rich Horace Vandergelder. He prides himself on being set in his ways, and yet, there’s a bead of sweat gnawing at him, telling him there’s more to life than what he can manage alone. When Dolly picks up on that scent, you know the poor, stubborn man doesn’t stand a chance.
Wilder goes easy on the first act so that story complications can explode with delirium in the second. DeLaurier knows how to handle this. He keeps things realistically toned, with just a pinch of exaggeration, so that when the plot goes berserk, we’re right there with him.
The cast is occasionally a tad overscaled, particularly the young members, who don’t yet seem to know how to hold things back to get maximum results.
There’s a mesmerizing performance, though, late in the second act by a character not in the musical — the neurotic Flora Van Huysen, a friend of Horace’s late wife, played with a twisted air of wisdom by Carole Healey. The actress’s depth of talent demands that you listen to all the nothings her character has to say. She’s a professional scene stealer, and reason enough for lovers of the musical version to pay this play its own deserved visit.REVIEW what: "The Matchmaker" when: 8 p.m. (MDT) Mondays and Thursdays; 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays where: Randall L. Jones Theatre tickets: $22-$48 grade: A