In some ways it’s a great misfortune that Thornton Wilder wrote “Our Town.” A great misfortune in the way that winning the lottery can be a great misfortune. In this case, it wasn’t so much that the play’s success changed Wilder so much as it forever altered the discourse surrounding the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. It would seem that any discussion of his body of plays must be preceded by a formal setting aside of the legacy of “Our Town.” And now that we have concluded with that part of the review, we can get to the topic at hand: the Goodman Theatre’s dazzling production of Wilder’s “The Matchmaker.”
A supremely confident play that crackles with visual and verbal wit, there is little to say about “The Matchmaker” that it doesn’t already know about itself. Director Henry Wishcamper fully embraces Wilder’s lovably strange milieu, their specificity coupled with their ability to be projected upon, which, in the employ of the Goodman’s trademark opulence, translates to the kind of high entertainment that even the shrewdest theatergoer needs every now and again.
At Wishcamper’s disposal is a veritable army of comedic talent. From Allen Gilmore’s eyebrows—with which he can do more than most of us can with our entire body—to Elizabeth Ledo’s emotional range, her Irene Molloy moving effortlessly between withering melodrama and baiting antagonism. Postell Pringle and Behzad Dabu are unforgettable as the hapless duo set on having a real adventure for the first time in their respective lives. Dabu transitions between lethargy and athleticism as if someone simply flipped a switch in his soul. Meanwhile Pringle’s romantic foil is equal parts sweet and smart.
Then of course there is the matchmaker herself, Kristine Nielsen, who brings to the role inestimable warmth and determination. Nielsen herself seems very much on the verge of bursting out of Dolly, as if she were enjoying the role so much that her only wish was to witness her own splendid performance of it. Nielsen is a star burning bright in a luminous and lush night sky. Seeing her alongside this invigorating ensemble we can all be glad that Thornton Wilder was not the type to rest on his merits. (Kevin Greene)
Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn, (312)443-3800, goodmantheatre.org, $10-$82. Through April 10.