A faltering production of Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker," such as the one Shakespeare & Co. is currently presenting at the Trapier Theater, is likely to increase one's opinion of "Hello, Dolly!," which was adapted from "The Matchmaker."
"Hello, Dolly!" transcended its farcical little plot with invigorating music and dance. "The Matchmaker" attempts to transcend the same little plot with homily-strewn monologues, spoken as asides to the audience.
"Hello, Dolly!" had a better idea.
For anyone who has seen "Hello, Dolly!," particularly in the original version or its facsimile that played the National last year, there are moments in "The Matchmaker" that beg for the "Hello, Dolly!" songs and dances. It cannot be said that "Hello, Dolly!" has moments that beg for more "Matchmaker" homilies.
Perhaps it is not fair to judge "The Matchmaker" from this production. The actors playing the two leads are all wrong: Kristine Nielsen because her Dolly is far too young, and James Michael because he hasn't mastered all his lines as Horace Vandergelder and because he delivers them in halting, bland fashion. Horace is described in Wilder's stage directions as "choleric, vain and sly"; Michael seems nothing more than numb.
The youngsters in the show are considerably more convincing. That goes for John Gilliss as Cornelius, Tait Ruppert as Barnaby, Anne Stone as Mrs. Molloy, Caroline Cromelin as Minnie, Paul Norwood as Ambrose and Clare Petersberger as Ermengarde.
Edward Crow has designed some surprisingly handsome sets for the tiny Trapier stage; unfortunately, their size delays the show somewhat as the crew laboriously changes sets between acts.
The action itself is at its most laborious in the first act, when Horace is blustering around Yonkers. Once the plot follows the old merchant and his retinue down to the matchmaking lairs of Manhattan, the pace picks up.
This is the last Shakespeare & Co. production directed by Ted Walch, founder and director of the company, before he leaves to become director of the Kenyon Repertory Theater in Gambier, Ohio.