Hailing from a history of immense success, evident in its 486-long Broadway performances in the ’50s, Adelaide’s Independent Theatre took on a challenge when deciding to showcase Thornton Wilder’s magnum opus The Matchmaker.
Set in 1897 in the town of Yonkers just outside New York City, the play centres around the lives of several characters young and old battling the struggles of capitalism, loneliness, and boredom. While it may sound like Wilder is about to get all existential on your ass, the production actually takes the form of a roaring, fast-paced comedy that ebbs and flows between one-liners to farcical slapstick scenes revolving around the larger-than-life personality of self-proclaimed matchmaker Dolly Levi (Bronwyn Ruciak).
Ruciak is a perfect fit for the boisterous and brazen Mrs. Levi, who does an exceptional job of capturing the intricacies and flaws of the character's hilarious and commanding personality. She presents a highly energetic performance that propels the rest of the cast forward and had the audience eagerly awaiting her next jibe. Massive props to the costume department as well (sorry ‘bout that bad pun), who did a fantastic job in clothing the cast accurately and realistically. Mrs. Levi’s range of gaudy layered silks, extravagant headpieces and dramatic makeup helped to further bring her character to life.
Will Cox as rebellious youngster Cornelius Hackl was another highlight of the production. While any main character in a play as farcical as The Matchmaker has the potential to seem stale or overdone in their performance, Cox navigated this line perfectly and sat smack-bang in the middle of the two without turning to excess or appearing forced or awkward. His stage presence was confident and comfortable, and like Ruciak, often had the audience in fits of laughter. The cast worked well together as a cohesive unit, and made for a highly engaging stage presence that kept the audience interested and wanting more.
This leads us to the comedic aspect of the play. The Matchmaker's humour is based on exaggerated stereotypes largely relying on gender roles, the characters' self-mockery of their exaggerated natures, and slapstick, slapstick, slapstick. While some parts of the production are genuinely hilarious and entertaining, much of the content hasn't aged particularly well. Oftentimes, sexism is called upon for a cheap laugh, which gets a bit old pretty quickly (especially in a play of four parts and an interval). Oh, and transphobia. Did we mention the transphobia?
Mind, much of the audience comprised older people — as in, probably 80% — and while the baby boomers were loving it, I wouldn't recommend this play to you switched-on, plugged-in, Tumblr-perusing millennials since the content simply isn’t relatable and at times, somewhat frustrating and cheesy. Although, if you do come across the chance to buy a ticket, make sure to pass it onto your nanna — I guarantee she’ll be cackling.
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