It’s fun to revisit Thornton Wilder’s classic ”Matchmaker” comedy when staged as deftly as in Goodman Theatre’s current production.
Known for populating his plays with characters who represent typical professions, lifestyles and expectations of particular times (think “Our Town”), Wilder’s “Matchmaker” contains those elements but does so in a playful manner.
It combines elements of a farce such as clerks popping up from a store’s underground storage area in Yonkers and those same clerks later trying to hide under a table and in a cupboard in a milliner’s shop in Manhattan with serious characters such as the clerks’ wealthy boss, Horace Vandergelder, who espouses some of society’s more close-minded views at the turn of the 20th century. Vandergelder sees marriage as a “bribe” for an unpaid housekeeper.
The farcical aspects really are inherent. Debuted as “The Matchmaker” on Broadway in 1955 under producer David Merrick, the play had its roots in “A Day Well Spent,” a short 1835 farce by John Oxenford that a few years later was rewritten as a longer play by Johann Nestrov. After an initial adaptation in 1938 as “The Merchant of Yonkers,” Wilder rewrote if for director Tyrone Guthrie as “The Matchmaker.”
However, Goodman audiences are likely to think “Hello Dolly” when seeing “Matchmaker” because Merrick turned the play into the Broadway musical with Carol Channing in 1964. Ernest Lehman produced the 1969 movie directed by Gene Kelly that starred Barbra Streisand.
But, the Goodman version, directed by Henry Wishcamper, stands well on its own with an interestingly diverse cast and excellent set design by Neil Patel and costume design by Jenny Mannis.
Kristine Nielsen is a delightful Dolly Gallagher Levi and Alan Gilmore is the stately but miserly Vandegelder who goes with Dolly to find a wife in Manhattan. Postell Pringle is chief clerk Cornelius Hackl who wants to seek a day of adventure in Manhattan while the boss is gone. He convinces his young helper, Barnaby, (Behzad Dabu) to go with him.
Things get a bit nutty when Hackl spies milliner Irene Molly (Elizabeth Ledo) in her shop and decides he would like to get to know her better. He pulls Barnaby in just before Vandegelder and Dolly show up outside the shop. Molly also has a helper in the timid Minnie (Sydney Germaine). The nuttiness continues with attempts to hide, ventures out on the town and almost accidental meetings.
“The Matchmaker” by Thorton “Wilder is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL now through April 10, 2016. For Tickets and show times visit Goodman and call 312-443-3811.