Review by Danny Gaisin
Oxenford to Nestroy to Wilder: – not a Blue Jays triple-play but the evolution of ‘The Matchmaker”. Like Thornton’s other plays, this effort (originally titled ‘Merchant of Yonkers’) is shallow, trite and easily predicted. To compensate for this superficiality, director Chris Abraham has his charges overact to a point of hamminess. Photo courtesy of Cylla Von Tiedemann
The plotline is about a miserly businessman and his two serfs. Said Scrooge wannabe has recruited a marital fixer-upper to find him a mate. It’s the early 19th century so E-Harmony™ et.al is not an option. ‘Dolly’; the matchmaker is a used-car-salesman type with an agenda of her own; her client has a niece with personal marital wishes; and the underlings just want to visit NYC & finally get kissed(!). Naturally, all 3 plots & subplots have to intermingle, causing the requisite hide & seek-ing.
Dolly is portrayed by Seana McKenna and her thespian experience shows. She crams her character with enough meat for the multi-tasking lady to seem almost credible. She does offer some hackneyed shtick…numerous business cards, misnomers and fast “B.S.”ing her way out of situations. As her client cum intended, Tom McCamus doesn’t cut it. He has some great lines, such as ‘the best part of marriage is fighting’; and offers a logic that offends but like Machiavelli – works. Still, this writer found his personality so implausible that one can’t imagine his being even slightly successful in business and certainly displays a total absence of any social charm. Retain customers- not likely; keep staff; never; be a potential catch; not even if he was a Vanderbilt instead of a Vandergelden!
The underlings are played as a Martin/Lewis team with Mike Shara given the lead and Josh Epstein as his comedic foil. Shara has a super funny mobile face which he uses to perfection. He also displays an instinctive sense of timing, especially in his asides to the audience. But Abraham has him continually ‘flouncing’…I abhor male flouncers, unless they are trying to exaggeratedly simulate a flamingly-gay imagery. Epstein, on the other hand integrates more subtlety into his Barnaby portrayal; even during the pratfalls or the requisite under-the-table scenes. As Shara’s love interest (also on McCamus’ list), Laura Condlin; with a dynamite smile and twinkle is a standout. She brings a delightful moxie to her ‘Irene’ and is only outdone by Geraint Wyn Davies, whose job-hunting rapscallion is a scene-stealer as well as a rogue. Condlin also has her own foil; Andrea Runge is her shrieking millinery shop assistant & confidante.
The costumes and all three sets are top notch. Not only do they faithfully reflect the era but give the audience a sense of having actually slipped back almost two centuries. The Matchmaker may be farcical and certainly whimsy-filled; but it definitely has its fun moments and does entertain.