The Matchmaker

By Thornton Wilder
Directed by Michael Martorano
Westside Repertory Theatre (874-7290)
252 W. 81st St. (closes July 12)
Review by Adrienne Onofri

Between its record-breaking run on Broadway and its Oscar-winning film version, Hello, Dolly! virtually obliterated the work on which it was based: Thornton Wilder's 1954 comedy The Matchmaker. To perform The Matchmaker is to work in the shadow of Barbra Streisand and Carol Channing, who made such strong impressions as Dolly on film and stage, and even of Walter Matthau, who, being the ultimate curmudgeon, was perfectly cast as Horace in the movie. By comparison, Ed Schultz's and Ruthanne Gereghty's performances in the Westside Repertory production of The Matchmaker seemed a bit restrained. The actors were competent in their roles but didn't exaggerate their characters' personalities - so Horace is not as gruff as he could be and Dolly is not such a yenta.

The supporting actors, on the other hand, did play their parts to the hilt: Ledger Free as the nervous but rebellious Cornelius; Gary Tifeld as the immature and excitable Barnaby; Suzanne Fossett as the sassy Irene Molloy; Lisa Johnson as giggly Minnie Fay; and Alexandra Devin as Horace's weepy niece, Ermengarde. They weren't afraid to overplay the distinctive traits and foibles of their characters and thus were a lot of fun to watch.

The action in The Matchmaker moves from a general store in Yonkers to a milliner's shop to a restaurant to an elegant home in Manhattan. These four acts, each with completely different scenery, were a rigorous undertaking for Westside Repertory because of its tiny stage. Each set had more furniture and props than the company is used to dealing with. In addition, as many as 10 people had to be accommodated on the stage at once. All this activity and scenery meant the show didn't run as smoothly as Westside Rep's productions usually do, although the cast still pulled off some of the trickier staging, such as when Cornelius hides in an armoire and Barnaby under the table in the hat shop.

Four acts also means this was a long play (2 hours and 40 minutes), and a little trimming wouldn't have hurt. Still, it was interesting to discover just how faithful the lyrics and story of Hello, Dolly! are to the dialogue and plot of The Matchmaker. What got lost in the musical version were the philosophical foundations of the play. Wilder once said his play is about "the aspirations of the young (and not only of the young) for a fuller, freer participation in life." He gives us messages about love, money, practicality and the pursuit of happiness. The Westside Rep production evoked these sentiments nicely and, despite the physical challenges, delivered a pleasant piece of nostalgia. (Also featuring Mark Cortale, John Vicich, Wanda O'Connell, Lee Leonard, Jim Hazard, Frank Nicolo, Kathleen Carthy, and Miodrag Mihajlovic; sets, Joe Reider; costumes, Sally Vrba; lighting, Izzy Einsidler.)

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1998 Adrienne Onofri