A Day Well Spent became a new event – – The Matchmaker!
John Blytt & Jeanine Perasso
Photo credit: Jamie Jobb
One of the most enjoyable aspects of engaging in and attending community theater is in sharing the joy, excitement, satisfaction of success, fear of faux pas, and even the unexpected and unpredictable moment in live theater when a disquieting pause occurs, such as when an actor forgets his lines or a prop is not where it obviously is supposed to be. Live theater is always exciting and rewarding no matter what the level of expertise of theater, cast and company have.
This past week I had the good fortune of attending a delightfully funny and at times gently overacted production of Thornton Wilder’s 1955 production of “The Matchmaker”, in the Campbell Theatre in downtown Martinez. The Onstage Theatre Company has been receiving a lot of my attention over the last year in large part due to great improvement of their shows, and in large part due to their ability to attract many clever and adept actors from the Lafayette, Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, and Martinez communities. Mark Hinds, a fine actor and director in his own right, has stepped forward in this little company to assume a greater role in the management process. And as often happens when new eyes see new possibilities for an old established theater company, the results can be very rewarding.
This play originated in 1835 as a one-act farce, A Day Well Spent, which was extended into a full-length play in 1842 by an Austrian playwright, Johann Nestroy. It remained pretty much the same until 1938 when Wilder adapted Nestroy’s version into an Americanized comedy entitled, The Merchant of Yonkers. 15 years later Wilder extensively rewrote the play and rechristened it The Matchmaker. In 1958, it became a film version and in 1964 it enjoyed another incarnation as a musical, starring Barbara Streisand, under the title, Hello Dolly!
Today, this play is much the same as its original silly, almost foppish slapstick comedy premise was, when it opened on Broadway in 1955. A delightfully gregarious widow by the name of Dolly Levi becomes the play is centerpiece as a marriage broker in Yonkers, an inner suburb of New York City. Bumbling clerks, stumbling servants, flirtatious milliners, and amorous adversaries make up the mix of characters. The play’s storyline still occurs in the 1880s and begins with wealthy widower and store owner, Horace Vandergilder (John Blytt), confronting his niece, Ermengarde (Anne Baker), over her plans to marry an artist the name of Ambrose Kemper (Nick Sears), whom he feels is an in-appropriate potential spouse due to his uncertain income stream.
Mrs. Dolly Levi (Jeanine Perraso), arrives at Horace’s midtown store where she is preparing to arrange a formal introduction of the penny-pinching store owner, Mr. Vandergelder, to Mrs. Irene Malloy (Marissa Clarke-Howard), an attractive, lonely, and respectable New York milliner, at her shop in New York City. When Dolly discovers that Horace has already made a decision to offer Mrs. Malloy a marriage proposal during that meeting, Mrs. Levi decides to dissuade his immediate inclination, contriving a fictional female that she reports may be an even better marriage prospect. She explains to him that she has arranged a dinner meeting for Horace and this new lady in New York this very same evening. Intrigued, he agrees to postpone proposing to Mrs. Malloy, at least until he meets this new woman Dolly has found for him.
This same afternoon, Horace’s 33 year old chief clerk, Cornelius Hackl (Matthew R. King), and his assistant, Barnaby Tucker (Thomas Spadini), sneak away for a good time in the big city as well. But where do they, just by coincidence, happen to show up? At the millinery shop of Ms. Irene Malloy and her attractive young assistant, Minnie Fay (Melissa Momboisse). This is, of course, the same hat shop where Dolly Levi and Horace Vandergelder also plan to arrive very shortly. As you can see, this is all a set up for a grand evening of mistaken identities, romantic rendezvous, anguished separated lovers, and opportunities for supercilious slapstick situations. There are at least five more delightful actors who play several characters, including Brian Hulse, Christine Shepard, Remington Stone, Evelyn Owens and Susanne Bagnio, which bring this outrageously silly farce full circle and to a delightful conclusion. Like me, you will probably enjoy meeting and talking with the actors after the final curtain falls, out front in the foyer of the theater. Yes, there might be a little messed-up timing here and there and perhaps a missed line or two, but nothing is a big deal. The scenic design by Diane McRice works well, as does the lighting design by Randy Nott. Kim Doppe directs this crazy production with loving care. It works well, is fun, and is well worth the trip to Martinez.
“The Matchmaker” continues with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm with two Thursday performances on the 8th and the 15th at 8pm as well, and closing on Sunday the 18th. The theater is located at 636 Ward Street at the corner of Estudillo in downtown Martinez, just one block south of Main Street. Plenty of street parking that is free after 6 pm. Tickets may be purchased at the theater up to an hour before the show starts or by going on-line to Brown Paper Tickets at the following site: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3678610.