ICCT Breathes Life and Laughter Into Wilder’s Classic The Matchmaker

By James E. Trainor III
Photos by Paul VanDorpe

Howard Meadows, Catherine Shook, Lindsay Vincent,
Nicole DeSalle (foreground)

Iowa City – It’s been nearly fifty years since Thorton Wilder’s The Matchmaker first graced our stages, and though the play does show its age, it’s also very clear why it has had such a long life. Wilder uses a very curious structure, which seems a bit quaint in our fast-paced times but works quite well: while the content of the plot is very much that of a farce, he stops the traditional breakneck pace of such a comedy to reflect on the action and the themes with short monologues directed to the audience. These are moments that Wilder uses to philosophize, and are full of some of his quotable platitudes (Take the line “Money, pardon the expression, is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around, encouraging young things to grow.” Classic). These could be easily be stumbling blocks to a company, as they stop the action dead, but in the hands of director Rachael Lindhart they’re refreshing breaths of air that invigorate the characters and invest us in the story. It’s this careful attention to style and pace that makes ICCT’s production of The Matchmaker such a charming evening of theatre.

The plot revolves around Horace Vandergelder (Howard Meadows), a wealthy widower who is looking to remarry, but is disgusted by the “foolishness” he sees all around him. A friend of his deceased wife, Dolly Levi (Nicole DeSalle), is ostensibly helping him find the perfect mate, but is clearly laying a careful trap to snare him for himself. In the opening scene we are introduced to Vandergelder, his young niece Ermengarde (Shay McKeehan) and her fiance Ambrose (Brian Tanner), as well as his clerks Cornelius (Brad Quinn) and Barnaby (Jacques Motyko). When Vandergelder sets off to New York for a date, Ermengarde and Ambrose hatch a scheme to elope, and Cornelius and Barnaby plot an adventurous night on the town. The stage is set for a fun romp full of deceit and disguise, mistaken identity, close calls and sudden reversals, and, of course, love at first sight.

The acting is solid during these opening moments, but it seems to lack a sense of urgency; the characters are painted a little too broadly. The jokes don’t seem to land as hard as they could, and there’s a general sense of holding back. All this clears away, however, when Dolly enters the scene. She is the play’s titular matchmaker, a very entertaining scoundrel, a lovable liar. Almost everyone in the play is at some point part of her great scheme. Her motives are noble; she wants to get her hands on grumpy old Vandergelder’s money and “spread it around” (see above). DeSalle crafts this signature character with great care. She is refined, she has impeccable timing, and she pursues her objective patiently and playfully. She and Meadows make a great duo, responding to each other energetically as Dolly turns Vandergelder into putty in her hands.

Jacques Motyko, Brad Quinn, Lindsay Vincent and Catherine Shook

Another memorable performance is Lindsay Vincent’s Mrs. Malloy. Malloy is a widowed milliner who spends her days longing for adventure. When Cornelius and Barnaby walk into her shop, she gets her wish, and she activates in a big way. Vincent is another skilled actor who has created a great comic character; there’s consistency and creativity in her responses to others, and when Malloy wants something, her energy takes over the stage. This is a fun character to follow; wherever she goes, life becomes an adventure around her. At times Vincent threatens to steal scenes, but she always comes back down to earth, grounded very closely in her scene partners.

The men in this show are very good as well. Brad Quinn is a great straight man, providing an anchor for the endless silliness. Jacques Motyko is energetic as Barnaby, and is great at making specific scene choices. Howard Meadows has a grandiose presence that fits his character quite well. All of these actors are well-cast and well-directed, and are supported by a great supporting cast. ICCT does justice to this classic, honoring its humor and its humanity in this production.

The Matchmaker runs February 28 – March 9 at the Johnson County Fairgrounds. More information here.

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