By Thornton Wilder
MainStage Irving-Las Colinas
Director – Dave Schmidt
Set Design – Michelle Harvey
Costume Design – Tory Padden
Lighting Design – Kenneth Farnsworth
Sound Design – Dave Schmidt
Video Designer – Rich Frolich
Ambrose Kemper – Jake Blakeman
Gertrude – Mary Bongfeldt
Cook – Corinne Christopher
Malachi Stack – Clayton Cunningham
Ermengarde – Marisa Duran
Dolly Levi – Sherry Etzel
Cornelius Hackl – Hayden Evans
Minnie Fay – Megan Hildebrand
Barnaby Tucker – Tyler Knabe
Mrs. Molloy – Jennifer Obeney
A Cabman – Rob Pocklington
Miss Flora Van Huysen – Debbie Hurley Pyle
August – Bobby Rochelle
Joe Scanlon/Rudolph – David Smith
Horace Vandergelder – James West
Reviewed Performance: 7/22/2016
Reviewed by Joel Gerard, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Mistaken identity, slapstick, romance, comedy, and drama. The Matchmaker, a comedy by Thornton Wilder, has it all. In 1955, it premiered on Broadway and ran for over two years. But in 1960, theatrical producer David Merrick optioned the rights to The Matchmaker to turn it into a musical comedy. Hello, Dolly! opened on Broadway in 1964, starring the legendary Carol Channing, and ran successfully for seven years, becoming the longest running musical of the time.
While most people are familiar with Hello, Dolly! and the movie, which starred none other than Barbra Streisand, The Matchmaker is really a very different play. The character names are the same, but the play goes deeper into the lives of all the characters. It’s more of an ensemble show than a starring vehicle for whoever plays Dolly Levi. In fact, there are long stretches when Dolly isn’t even onstage which gives the supporting players a chance to shine.
I was particularly impressed with most of the younger cast members in the show. They injected an energy and enthusiasm for the demanding dialogue and physical comedy in the script. The older actors weren’t quite as engaging as the younger ones.
Thornton Wilder’s script plays with several different styles of theatre. There are vaudeville/ slapstick moments with characters literally bumping into each other and falling down. Farcical elements had characters hiding in cabinets and under tables and walking in on situations at an inopportune time. There’s even mistaken identities between couples similar to a Shakes -pearean comedy. Several characters would have a moment onstage and deliver an inner monologue directly to the audience. Through no fault of the director, these monologues stopped any and all action dead in its tracks and slowed down any momentum the scenes had going. These monologues were an odd occurrence in an otherwise fast moving comedy.
Widower Dolly Levi is the matchmaker who devises most of the schemes for the couples and for herself. She has no money left and in order to survive, she knows she needs to marry a wealthy man. Her motives are not entirely selfish however; she believes in love and wants to see others happy as well. Sherry Etzel does an admirable job as Dolly Levi, but was missing some pizazz and charm. Dolly is a big, bold character. She doesn’t take “no” for an answer and she manipulates any situation until she gets what she wants. She commands attention and is always the cleverest person in the room. Ms. Etzel needed to inject more presence and energy into Dolly.
Also a widower, Horace Vandergelder is the owner of a general store in Yonkers, and very wealthy because he’s a bit of a penny-pincher. He has a daughter whom is becoming an adult, and he's decided that it’s time to move on and find a new wife for himself. He enlists family friend Dolly Levi to help him find a suitable mate. James West found the right balance for Horace, between his surly demeanor and caring for his daughter. Mr. West did an excellent job portraying the gruff and stingy store owner. He flubbed a few lines in act one, but I contribute it to opening night jitters.
Cornelius Hackl is the head clerk for Horace’s general store and has been for quite a few years. Horace is an overbearing boss and he rarely ever gives the clerks a night off of work. But Cornelius sees an opportunity to get out and live his life, if only for a night, when Horace makes a trip to New York City. He stumbles into a hat shop owned by Mrs. Irene Molloy. He falls for her and pretends to be rich to impress her. Hayden Evans plays Cornelius, and it was a pleasure to watch him invest himself in this character. He gave it his all on every line and physical comedy bit.
Irene Molloy, the object of Cornelius’ affection, is the proprietor of a hat store in New York City. She longs for love and adventure, but feels stuck in a rut with her life at the hat shop. She feels a connection when she meets Cornelius, and seeks to have an exciting night out on the town. She requests to go to the nicest restaurant in town to be wined and dined. Jennifer Obeney was just lovely as Mrs. Malloy. She brought out the character’s warmth, and did an excellent job forming a connection with Mr. Evans. Ms. Obeney was effortlessly good.
Special mention goes to Tyler Knabe as Barnaby Tucker, and Megan Hildebrand as Minnie Fay. These two were scene-stealers in every scene they were in. Both actors gave 110%. Mr. Knabe was excellent as the goofy, nerdy, and naïve Barnaby. He had probably the most physically challenging role, but conquered every joke and reaction with ease. His facial expressions lit up the stage and probably got the most laughs. As shy Minnie, Ms. Hildebrand also got plenty of laughs from her reactions and in particular a scene where she has to be drunk.
Tory Padden did an excellent job with her costume designs. Set in the late 1800’s, women were wearing corsets and full gowns and the men wore suits and several layers. The costumes made good use of color, especially on the guys. The colors in the dresses even went well with the colors in the set design. I particularly liked the suit Ambrose Kemper wore, and Dolly Levi had a stunning dress in act two.
Speaking of set design, Michelle Harvey designed some really impressive pieces. From the general store, to the hat shop, to the 4 star restaurant in New York City, every set evoked the right feeling of being in that place. There was a beautiful large display used for the hat shop. Also, I really enjoyed the bit of choreography used whenever there was a set change. Instead of having a stage crew dressed in black come out and move pieces around, the actors moved the set pieces themselves in a lyrical dance that was entertaining and fun. Director Dave Schmidt picked a fine cast and design team to stage a clever production of a classic play.
Mainstage Irving/Las Colinas
Irving Arts Center
3333 N. MacArthur Blvd, Irving, TX 75062
July 22nd – August 6th, 2016
Tickets: For dates, times, and ticket info go to www.irvingtheatre.org or call the box office at (972) 252-2787.