Lost in the Wilder

The Matchmaker
Through Aug. 23
Mad Cow Theatre, 105 S. Magnolia Ave.

I'm going to admit this bias up front: I have never understood the appeal of Thornton Wilder's plays and cannot fathom why he is considered a major American playwright of the 20th century. In college, I appeared in a production of The Skin of Our Teeth, Wilder's opus on the human condition. I didn't understand it then and still don't get it now; its supposed comic aspects never struck me as funny and its more serious themes seemed only skin-deep. Nor have I ever been convinced that his Our Town is as great a play as many others believe. So please take the following with several grains of salt.

Mad Cow Theatre's current edition of The Matchmaker, Wilder's reworked piece — based on his own adaptation of several older versions of a romantic comedy going back to the early 1800s — is an uneven and not very humorous production of an exceedingly haphazard and ultimately unsuccessful script. While it has all the elements of farce — people hiding in closets, men dressed as women, mistaken identities, etc. — none of the working parts mesh with any semblance of balance or efficiency. The result is a situation comedy without the comedy.

That being said, little blame for this long, unsatisfying evening of theater should be shouldered by Mad Cow's talented cast, including such company stalwarts as Ron Schneider as Horace Vandergelder and Michael Marinaccio as Cornelius Hackl, or newcomer Meghan Colleen Moroney as Dolly Levi (the role that became famous in the musical version of the play, Hello, Dolly!) or the show's director, Rob Anderson.

Truly, what can a company do with a script in which the lead characters must explain their motivations to the audience via elliptic soliloquies, rather than have them discovered within the body of the play's action? Or when the moral of the work has to be delivered after the play is finished, rather than its meaning being divined by the audience based on their emotional response to the story and plot? While Wilder has been lauded for employing these methods as groundbreaking theatrical conventions, I can only recognize them as his admitted failures in constructing a well-built edifice in the first place.

Could Mad Cow have ginned up the silliness several notches so that the overall effect would have come off as more madcap and less maddening? Probably. Would it have made that much of a difference in the end? In this viewer's opinion, probably not.

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