One has heard of theater in the round where the audience surrounds every part of the performance space. But this morning in the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s rehearsal hall, it was introductions in the round as the cast, creative team, crew and supporters of the up coming production of Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker” met for the first time.
Adapted by Wilder in 1938 from Austrian playwright Johann Nestroy’s 1842 play titled “Einen Jux will er sich machen,” Wilder’s initial effort “The Merchant of Yonkers” flopped on Broadway after only 39 performances. Wilder later revisited and expanded the work and made widowed, marriage broker Dolly Gallagher Levi into the central character. Dolly and her collective connected to audiences. The original production would run for 486 performances and earn two Tony award-nominations. The play and characters would be further cemented into the theatrical zeitgeist with the 1964 mega-hit musical “Hello, Dolly!”
As in life and as in art, first impressions are everything. It was a vigorous round of speed greetings worthy of the titular matchmaker herself. Mingling with coffee and snacks, the members of Asolo’s theatrical world caught up with old friends and collaborators from seasons past, acquainted themselves with those new to Asolo on this show, and imagining all the possibilities that await in this high, period and patently American comedy.
The production’s floor layout was intricately placed out on luminous, multicolored gaff tape ready for the next rehearsal. Russell Metheney’s intricate set design and Virgil Johnson’s lush costume design lined the walls. That combined with Lauryn E. Sasso’s dramaturgy and historical research transported those present to as close to turn of the 20th century Yonkers, NY as they would be until opening night on Jan. 6.
Once the theatrical forum had fully intermingled, the people formed a giant circle that expanded to the outer limits of the sizable rehearsal hall. Everyone large in role or small involved in this production introduced themselves. Director Peter Amster (who directed last season’s “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike” by Christopher Durang) then took the floor to discuss his motivations and inspirations in presenting Wilder’s original play and iconic characters.
“Why not just do Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s ‘Hello, Dolly!’” says Amster. “Well, because there is something different, darker and more profound about the original story with these original characters.”
Amster then went on to express that at the heart of this madcap romantic comedy is a core aspect of the American character: money and its relationship to happiness. “The Matchmaker” displays the fear of poverty and of heartbreak that every American has striven to avoid. The regular American dream: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As the circle disbanded, and theater participants, press and sponsors disbanded, everyone went back to fervid discussion of the upcoming production. The room was floating with anticipation and kinetic, creative energy.
“It’s like the first day of school,” says Amster.
IF YOU GO
Runs Jan. 6 through April 11
For more information, visit asolorep.org/shows/the-matchmaker/2014-2015