University of Maryland’s School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies’ production of The Matchmaker at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center has it all: mistaken identity, incessant weeping, public drunkenness, adventures, and true love.
Thornton Wilder’s play, upon which the musical Hello, Dolly! was based, pays homage to timeless human frivolity and frailty, set in the world of matchmaking circa 1880’s New York. Mrs. Dolly Levi, the matchmaker of the title, sets about to help those around her find love, including herself. Yet as a part of this search for love, the various characters learn to grow and truly live life, rather than just existing. The universal nature of this struggle, of living versus simply taking up space, of our constant search for love, makes the play as relevant today as it was when it was written. Directed by Alan Paul, the University of Maryland’s production of The Matchmaker beautifully conveys these timeless ideals.
With beautiful scenic design by Paige Hathaway, lighting by Andrew Cissna, sound design by Neil McFadden, and dance design by Karen Kohn Bradley and Christina Banalpoulou, the cast has a wonderful background against which to draw the audience into their world.The realistic yet versatile design, along with the beautifully elaborate costumes and wigs, really helps bring the audience into 1880’s New York. The costumes by Arnya Petrashenko and Anne Nesmith, like Mrs. Levi’s vibrant red dress, underscore the personalities of the characters. Petrashenko and Anne Nesmith also designed the elaborate wigs.
Riley Bartlebaugh is energetic as Dolly Levi, and brings a delightful humanity and realism to her character and keeps the play grounded, even amid the slapstick humor of the last few scenes. She especially shines in her scenes opposite the cantankerous Horace Vandergelder, played capably by Martin Thompson. Other standouts include Thomas Beheler (an endearing Cornelius Hackl), Julia Klavans (a passionate Mrs. Irene Molloy), and Margaret Bartolomeo (a sweet and naive Minnie Fay). Aidan Walsh’s Barnaby Tucker excelled at the physical comedy, which really helped the slapstick work effectively.
Hats off to the cast for tackling together an uncooperative large screen – a rather crucial prop that refused to stay upright in the second act. Amidst the gales of laughter from the audience and their own attempts to prop up the screen (which did not work), the cast was not only able to continue the play, but actually took advantage of the mishap and turned it to their benefit, highlighting the humor of the scene. It was skillfully done, it showed great teamwork, and was really impressive!
The skill and sheer joy and enthusiasm of the talented cast and creative and design teams makes The Matchmaker a `must see’ evening of theatre filled with humor and warmth.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including a 15 minute intermission.
The Matchmaker plays through Saturday October 19, 2013, in The Ina & Jack Kay Theatre at Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland – at the intersection of Stadium Drive and Route 193, in College Park, MD. For tickets, call (301) 405-ARTS (2787), or purchase them online.