Thornton Wilder was never really interested in expectations. Give the author of Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth a farce about a grand day in New York, and he'd produce a show as much about the desperate races we run in life as guys hiding from their boss by dressing in women's clothing.
That unexpected collision of comedy and philosophy fuels Girl Friday's handsome production of The Matchmaker. It's the third time the every-other-year company has tackled Wilder, and it has just as much charm as the first two productions.
The play centers on Dolly Levi, a widowed matchmaker who is looking for a new match herself. It's Hello, Dolly, except in place of Jerry Herman's rousing tunes, we get a lot of deep thoughts about money, happiness, and how the two connect.
The Matchmaker takes us back to the New York of the 1870s, beginning in backward Yonkers. Aging businessman Horace Vandergelder is looking to marry again and prevent his niece from hitching up with the cape-wearing young artist of her dreams.
The artist doesn't have great financial prospects. For Vandergelder, wealth is the greatest achievement of man.
Dolly Levi has a different view. Since her husband died, life has been a hard-scrabble series of schemes and seat-of-the-dress improvisation. She likes money too, but mostly as a way to spread small pieces of joy.
Dolly is set on two things throughout the play: getting the two young lovers together, and guiding Vandergelder away from another woman and into her own arms.
There's one more complication: Vandergelder's two clerks, Cornelius and Barnaby, decide to take advantage of their boss' trip to the city by embarking on one of their own. Both are dying for an adventure on the busy streets. What are the chances they'll run into their employer?
Since this is a farce, those chances are 100 percent. The characters continue on a collision course throughout, from a hat shop run by the haberdashery-hating Mrs. Molloy (the woman Vandergelder intends to marry), to a swank New York restaurant, where the clerks are separated from their boss by a thin screen.
During all of this, Wilder finds time for the characters to talk about money, comfort, and taking advantage of the opportunities we have on the Earth. It's like Our Town, but with laughs replacing the heartbreaking final scene.
Under the guiding hand of director Craig Johnson, the actors ride from comedy to romance to deeper thoughts at every turn. They are led by Karen Wiese-Thompson, who showcases Dolly's quick wit.
Alan Sorenson matches Wiese-Thompson as Vandergelder, who's loaded with self-important bluster. Still, Sorenson builds enough of a rapport with the audience that we understand where the businessman is coming from — so much so that we end up rooting for a pleasant end to his tale.
There are terrific performances up and down the large cast, creating a beguiling reality populated with ideas that are still worth hearing.