|Photo by Lily Allen-Duenas|
Amana - It’s quite possible that some audience members will approach The Matchmaker as a sort of Hello, Dolly without songs. Delightful as the musical can be, I suspect the audiences will find the play stands on its own two feet and is, in fact, a richer experience. The story is much the same: Dolly Gallagher Levi has been engaged to find a second wife for the widowed Horace Vandergelder. In The Merchant of Yonkers, an earlier version of the play, Vandergelder, not Dolly, was the principal character. The plot of The Matchmaker is not well served by a summary. After a series of complications and “adventures,” Dolly accomplishes her task but the second Mrs. Vandergelder is not the beautiful young widow Vandergelder planned to make his wife.
The considerable strength of this play lies in the characters rather than the plot. Under the crisp, careful direction of Sean McCall, the Old Creamery company vividly maneuvers through the complications and adventures encountered on a day in New York.
As Horace Vandergelder, David O. Combs captures the crustiness and the foolishness of a man who professes to believe that everyone around him—in fact, nearly everyone in the world—is a fool. Horace knows best, except when he doesn’t. Quick to anger, slow to see the truth, this is a fully realized character with all his faults on display for our amusement. We can laugh at Horace but we can also recognize him as not so different from ourselves.
Disapproving of a marriage between his niece, Ermengarde, and an artist, Ambrose Kemper, Vandergelder attempts to keep the couple apart by sending Ermengarde (Haley Karlson) to New York but Ambrose (Josh Cahn) follows her. Karlson and Cahn make a convincing couple, despite Ermengarde’s propensity for loud weeping when frustrated.
Vandergelder’s employees, Cornelius Hackl (Vaughn Irving) and Barnaby Tucker (Nick Barnes) also take a spontaneous trip to New York where Cornelius meets Irene Malloy (Adelina Feldman-Schultz), the hat maker Vandergelder planned to marry. Like Ambrose and Ermengarde, these two belong together. Act Two concludes with Irene’s display of her strength of character and ability to take charge of her situation. From a rather labored beginning as Cornelius and Barnaby’s reluctantly begin a song in obedience to Irene’s insistence, the song develops into a surprisingly harmonious quartet for the boys from Yonkers, the fiery Irene and her giggling assistant Minnie Fay (Meghan Kuhn}. The quartet not only brings the act to a close, it sets the stage for Act Three.
The third act, clearly the most farcical of the play, brings the unsophisticated and nearly penniless boys, along with Irene and Minnie Fay, into the fashionable Harmonia Gardens Restaurant where they are surprised to discover Vandergelder and Dolly Levi are also dining. After Vandergelder loses his money, which Malachi Stack finds and mistakenly delivers to Cornelius, chaos ensues. Sean McCall’s direction of the chaotic scene is proof of his directorial skill and produces some of the best laughs of the show.
Every cast member performs with energy and commitment. As I watched the play unfold I enjoyed the work of the entire company and I wish I could devote attention to each one, but there are three characters I will keep in my memory a long time. Jason Grubbe plays Malachi Stack, Vandergelder’s newest employee whose checkered career includes many different occupations. Grubbe’s delivery of Stack’s monologue, explaining his commitment to just one vice (whiskey), is wonderfully delivered, making us understand and accept him for what he is.
Act Four introduces us to Flora Van Huysen, Ermengarde’s aunt and the person to whom Vandergelder intended to consign her. Rachael Lindhart captures Flora’s flamboyant winsomeness, as well as her take-charge attitude, her devotion to love and young lovers, and her foolish (?) generosity of spirit.
Finally, Act Four resolves the problems of Ambrose and Ermengarde, accelerates the intensity of the relationship between Cornelius and Irene Malloy, and brings to fruition Dolly’s long-standing determination to make Vandergelder propose marriage to her. Dolly Gallagher is one of the great roles in American theatre, and Marquetta Senters is more than capable of meeting any challenge this role presents. Senters is a wonderful clown as Creamery audiences know, but she is equally adept at presenting the deepest emotion; the intelligence driving her performances is formidable. As evidence, I refer you to Dolly’s Act Four monologue.
The Matchmaker runs through May 21.Tickets are available here.