Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Special to TorSun
04 JUNE 2012
Pictured: Seana McKenna
STRATFORD — At first blush, it certainly seemed like a strange union. Turns out, however, that in pairing director Chris Abraham, best known for “serious” stage work like Antigone and Eternal Hydra, with Thornton Wilder’s script for THE MATCHMAKER, the Stratford Festival has created a marriage made in heaven.
Actually, that should read Wilder’s scripts, because Abraham’s production of the classic comedy that opened on the stage of Festival Theatre Saturday, is an amalgam of three different takes on the work — a blend that adds up to something pretty close to comedic perfection. It is also a love letter of sorts to the human race that is all but certain to have you humming the score as you leave, even while you recognize that this isn’t Hello Dolly! and, in fact, the only song featured is that old chestnut “East side, west side, all around the town…”
But the fact that it is not a musical doesn’t keep Abraham from creating a production that virtually sings from start to finish as he fuses an impressive cast into a formidable comic force to tell Wilder’s wonderfully enduring story of the indomitable matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi (Seana McKenna) and her efforts to find a wife for the misanthropic Horace Vandergelder (Tom McCamus) — a search that will finally extend no further than her own mirror.
But while it is Dolly’s ongoing courtship of the irascible old moneybags Vandergelder that drives the story, what gives it its charm is the plot’s ancillary romance: Between Horace’s niece Ermengarde (Cara Ricketts) and her artist/suitor Ambrose (Sky Brandon); between Cornelius Hackl (Mike Shara), Horace’s sheltered chief clerk and the widowed Irene Molloy (Laura Condlin), a respectable hatmaker; between Barnaby Tucker (Josh Epstein), Cornelius’ sidekick in adventure, and Minnie Fay (Andrea Runge), assistant to the lovely Mrs. Molloy; and finally, it must be said, between the audience and a divinely-inspired supporting cast that includes Geraint Wyn Davies as the whiskey loving Malachi Stack, Nora McLellan as the whacky Flora Van Huysen and John Vickery in a trio of fine comedic turns, as well as Robert King, Brian Tree and a host of others, recruited to flesh out Wilder’s lovely vision of New York in the 1880s.
McKenna is superbly understated as the subtly meddlesome matchmaker of title, espousing love and art and all things good, while McCamus brings just the right touch of lovability to his portrayal of the curmudgeonly old tycoon. Shara, meanwhile proves his comedic genius time and again while still bringing a leading man sensibility to his romance with Condlin, who, in turn, crafts a complex Irene more than worthy of his attentions.
So, a perfect script, an all-but flawless cast — what more could one ask? A fair bit, actually. In designing this production, Santo Loquasto has created gorgeous sets that steadfastly refuse to recognize any of the constraints imposed by the Festival Theatre’s unique thrust stage. By ignoring those demands, Loquasto has, in his work here at the Festival over the years, consistently robbed audiences seated at the outer reaches of the theatre’s bowl of much of the visual charm of the stories he’s been involved in telling — and when the story is this good and the telling is being accomplished with so much style, his cavalier attitude towards those seated in the “cheap seats” seems little short of contempt.
This is still a marriage made in heaven, mind you, but unfortunately, one of the groomsmen seems to have had too much to drink and forgotten his responsibilities. This is a five-star review, Mr, Loquasto, but unfortunately, you can’t see all five from where you’re sitting.