Ah, farce! What better cultural antidote for the age we live in, which might be called the Age of Seriousness? Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama’s production of Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker (1955) will put you in a safe space of comedic absurdity and laughter, at least until, unfortunately, you have to re-enter the somber world.
Dramaturg Krissy Bylancik’s program essay does an excellent job tracing the long and convoluted history of this archetypal play, which originated in the early 19th century, incorporates aspects of Roman comedy and Molière, and eventually became the Broadway musical Hello, Dolly!
Chantelle Guido is scintillating as the iconic Dolly Levi, exhibiting a sense of comic timing that somehow delightfully synthesizes Rosalind Russell and Margaret Dumont. Guido exudes an overpowering rhythm of speech which envelopes everyone on stage, as if she is conducting their energy like James Brown conducted his band.
Her character — always up to mischief — is bent on seducing the wealthy widower Horace Vandergelder, played by the talented William Brosnahan. When these two are together the action hurtles forward like a train that might — and probably will — jump the rails.
Anthony McKay adroitly directs the mayhem of this show, producing classic sight and sound gags (the waiter with the precarious stack of plates, the clanging spittoon), and many hilarious scenes that rarely lose their stamina.
Jasjit Williams-Singh as the vagabond Malachi Stack has several great lines, such as, “That’s no friend. That’s an employer I’m trying out for a while.” Also strong are Jada Mayo (Minnie Fay), Kevin William Paul (Cornelius Hackl), Damon Rosati (Joe the Barber/Cabman), and Scott Kennedy (Barnaby Tucker). Special mention should be made of violinist Alexander Woskob as the Gypsy Musician.
The authenticity of Alexis Chaney’s 1880s costumes flavors the silliness of the humor in a way that is unique to this era, while the abstract style of Selby Souza’s sets enables much of the fantastical to become achievable, and even believable.
Here’s a perfect chance to put down the smartphone, get off Facebook, and enjoy a zany, well-written, well-acted farce. Like you couldn’t do with a little fun in your life right now. Seriously?