Saturday, August 30, 2008

"The Matchmaker" at Edgerton Park

Thursday night I got a call from a friend whom I hadn't seen in a while. We had planned to get together Thursday, then our plans changed. We changed those plans to Friday, then they had to get changed again. So I suggested Saturday, and my friend had said that she had already made plans to see The Matchmaker in Edgerton Park Saturday night, but would I like to come along?

"What is The Matchmaker?" I asked.

"It's a play by Thornton Wilder. It's part of the Elm Shakespeare Company's summer series in New Haven."

Summer series?

Shakespeare in the park?

Need you ask me to come? I'm already there!

Now this play, The Matchmaker, was originally written by Thornton Wilder in 1938 under the title The Merchant of Yonkers. It was a grand, great, big flop on Broadway. How big? Twenty-eight performances big (though there have been bigger flops; I'm not sure how many are bigger, ask SarahB.) Anyhoo, here is a summary of the play, taken directly from the program, which took it from the footnote that you'll see at the end of this post:

"Thornton Wilder's play The Matchmaker is a farce in the old-fashioned sense. It uses such time-honored conventions as characters hidden under tables and in closets, men disguised as women, a complex conspiracy to bring young lovers together, and a happy ending in which three couples are united with plans to marry. The traditional aspects of the play should come as no surprise: Wilder himself was the first to acknowledge the sources that it was based upon. The character of Dolly Levi came from French playwright Moliere's comedy L'avare, or The Miser, from which Wilder lifted some scenes directly. A closer influence was Johann Nestroy's Einen Jux will er sich Machen, performed in Vienna in 1842. Wilder referred to his play as a "free adaptation" of Nestroy's, which itself was adapted from British playwright John Oxenham's 1835 comedy A Day Well Spent. Wilder's first adaptation was called The Merchant of Yonkers, which failed on Broadway in 1938, running for only twenty-eight performances. The Matchmaker was itself adapted as Hello, Dolly!, which began in 1963 and ran for years, ranking as one of Broadway's longest-running musicals."**

So here's how Wilder's version goes: Horace Vandergelder is a penny-pinching store owner living in Yonkers with his only relative, his whiny niece Ermengarde. Ermengarde is in love with a poor artist, Ambrose Kemper, and wants to marry him. Uncle Horace won't let this pair of star-crossed lovers take their vows, for he believes that Ambrose does not have the funds to "take care of her and support her." So he has his housekeeper, Gertrude, pack up a steamer trunk for Ermengarde and sends his niece to live in New York City with Miss Flora Van Huysen, a very old spinster. Ermengarde, naturally, whines about being sent away, and wishes there were something that she could do.

Not to worry, Ermengarde, here comes Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi! Mrs. Levi has a plan to have Ermengarde and Ambrose dine secretly at a restaurant, and while they are eating their meal, she is going to try and convince Horace to marry her. While Dolly schemes to become the next Mrs. Vandergelder, she hopes that this plan will convince him to allow Ermengarde and Ambrose to marry.

Meanwhile, Horace's clerk, Cornelius, just wants a day off from the excessive demands put upon him by his employer. He is 33 years old and has never been with a woman. He just wants "adventure!" So he and his assistant, Barnaby, come up with a plan to sneak out of the store while Horace is in New York, trying to woo Irene Molloy to be his bride. Cornelius and Barnaby carry out their plan and sneak out to New York--where the first person they see is their boss, sitting on a bench, waiting for Dolly Levi. They sneak into a boutique that specializes in hats, where Irene Molloy is the proprietor. Cornelius falls in love with Irene, and this is where the fun really begins.

After Cornelius and Irene's initial meeting, then come the scenes of characters hiding under tables and in closets, men disguised as women, a complex conspiracy to bring young lovers together, and a happy ending in which three couples are united with plans to marry.

And intertwined with all of this are the traditional Thornton Wilder soliloquies where the characters break the fourth wall, address the audience directly, and reveal their innermost feelings.

It was a really, really good night at the theatre. The sets were amazing, the costumes were fabulous, and the acting was superb. What made this play even more amazing was the fact that, every other night, this acting company alternates performances of The Matchmaker with Hamlet. I've done some acting myself, and it's difficult enough sometimes to get into character for one role. These actors have to alternate between two drastically different genres of theatre, and two completely different roles, every night. I won't be able to attend tomorrow's performance of Hamlet, the final one of the season, but am just awed at knowing what these professionals have to do to prepare.

With this performance comes the end to a fine, fine summer of outdoor theatre and music experiences. Oh, how I will miss those concerts on the Wadsworth Mansion lawn, the Art Farm Shakespeare at Middlesex Community College, and this new discovery, the Elm Shakespeare Company at Edgerton Park.

There were, and will be, many, many other opportunities for outdoor theatre and music next summer. There's the Greater Bridgeport Symphony's concert at Fairfield University, which unfortunately I had to miss this summer, more Shakespeare at Connecticut College, and lots of other outdoor concert opportunities in and around Middletown. I didn't really get into exploring these artistic adventures until this summer, and for as long as I live, I will never let another summer go by without exploring these opportunities.

To borrow something from the title of SarahB's blog, I did have a lot of "Adventures in the Endless Pursuits of Entertainment" this summer.

I hope to continue such adventures in the fall, the winter, the spring...I've got to tide myself over till next year!

*"The Matchmaker: Introduction." Drama for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski. Vol. 16. Detroit: Gale, 1998. January 2006. 8 July 2008. .

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