By Matt DeLong | Faculty Contributor
Editor's note: Due to the power outage yesterday, the reviewer was only able to view half the show, but he had access to the entire script.
For students hurtling toward finals week, the aphorism "time is money" may be interpreted in the currency of grades. With so much left to do and so little time to get it done, why idle away an evening watching a play? Specifically, is there any value in attending Taylor University's production of Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker," directed by assistant professor of communications arts Tracy Manning, playing this weekend and next in Taylor's Mitchell Theater? After all, as proudly pompous, half-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, played by senior Evan Koons, observes, "artists produce something that nobody needs at any time," perhaps especially when finals are looming.
And yet, maybe what we need most during the crushing stress and uncertainty of a semester's end is the opportunity to be, in the words of the immortally beloved Dolly Gallagher Levi, played by senior Jessica Schulte, "for one moment outrageously happy. . . ." Taylor's well-implemented and heartfelt offering of Wilder's uproarious romp provides just such a delightful respite from the worrisome academic grind. The machinations of the irrepressible Levi remind us that by letting go of our need for security and control, we find love and joy in the unexpected adventure of life.
During this particular run-through, part of the unexpected adventure was a power outage. Although the indefatigable cast and crew had one final dress rehearsal the following night to polish their art, the storm hit and Manning cancelled the rehearsal.
The matchmaker Levi, a widow and marriage broker, is employed by Vandergelder, the wealthy merchant and widower, to arrange a marriage for him. Through a series of slapstick scenes and classic complications, including mistaken identities, secret rendezvouses and covert cross-dressing, Levi finally arranges for both Vandergelder and several other characters, a perfect, but potentially surprising, match.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the show is Schulte's portrayal of the cunning and coy, yet generous and delightful, Dolly Levi. Standing in shoes filled by luminaries like Barbra Streisand and Carol Channing must be intimidating, but Schulte uses this to feed the creative process, leading to an exuberant Levi. In one scene, Dolly explains how she takes great pleasure from her art of matchmaking, and it is clear watching Schulte, in her 14th and final Taylor mainstage production, she derives similar pleasure from her art.
Very nearly Schulte's equal is Koons as the self-important but endearing Vandergelder. Koons' booming baritone, commanding physique and trademark cigar produce a quintessentially prosperous 1880s Yonkers merchant. However, even within the first act, we can begin to see Vandergelder's firm but illusory sense of control begin to waver under Levi's crafty plans.
Other portrayals of note include junior Sarah Dodd as the innocent and sweet Ermengarde, senior Conner Reagan as the forthright Malachi Stack, freshman Andrew Baker as the boyish Barnaby Tucker and senior Jenna VanWeelden as the spunky Irene Molloy.
Manning's direction is purposeful and effective, drawing theological truths out of this "secular" play: Security and control are illusions, and the future is full of potential; life is best lived with a willingness to accept risk and embrace adventure; our gifts are not our own, but are for generously sowing love.
One unique aspect of this production of "Matchmaker" is its focus on the period immigrants of New York. Wilder used character names that suggest German, Irish and other immigrants, and yet most productions portray these as American-born New Yorkers. Assistant director and dramaturge sophomore Bradley Jensen's research helped Manning and the cast create a group of authentic immigrant characters. These not only lend interest, but they also give the production a sense of timeliness. Without being overtly political, they remind us both that our country was built on immigrants and that whom we perceive to be "the foreigner" can change over time.
The period design elements, including floor floodlights and hand-crafted, roll-drop scrims, transport the audience to an 1880s theater house. The set reinforces this concept with its beautiful gilded proscenium and pre-worn, period flooring. The props-especially the dozens of colorful hats in Molloy's hat shop-as well as the costumes, hair and makeup all contribute to the aura of authenticity.
Taylor's production of "The Matchmaker" is time and money well spent at $7 for Taylor students and $10 for Taylor faculty, staff and general admission. Levi observes in her grand soliloquy that money is like manure: "not worth a thing unless it's spread around encouraging young things to grow." Manning's delightfully entertaining and earnest cast and crew share the gift of "The Matchmaker" not for themselves, but as a life-growing offering to the Taylor community. So, as Barnaby exhorts in his closing monologue, don't sit in your dorm room wishing for adventure. Instead, get out and enjoy the farcical one in Mitchell Theater. Just don't forget to head back to the library afterwards to prepare for that other upcoming adventure that we call finals week.