The Department of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies will tackle the classical and the contemporary in its two plays opening at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center this fall.
The first is The Matchmaker, a Thornton Wilder play about the romantic twists and turns that occur when a wealthy man contacts a matchmaker to help him find a wife. Wilder’s play Our Town has become a standard part of American theater canon, and the center’s Matchmaker director Alan Paul called Wilder “one of the most important writers of the 20th century.” While many playgoers may not know the original play, its musical theater adaptation, Hello, Dolly!, is quite popular, Paul said, so he felt it was time to bring the play to light.
The Matchmaker is a classical show with tricky formal language that, if not mastered, can be easily detected by the audience, Paul said. But the lead actors stepped up to the task wonderfully, he added.
“They make something which is really challenging look really easy,” said Paul, who is also the associate director at Washington’s Shakespeare Theatre Company.
Riley Bartlebaugh, a junior English and theater major who plays matchmaker Dolly Levi, said she finds the play’s financial themes especially relevant in today’s America.
She referenced a line her character says in the play — that when it comes to money, people “have a responsibility in spending it and letting it flow.”
“I think it’s very timely, especially now with the government shutdown,” she said. “Our values have gotten so far away from living and supporting one another.”
The play draws on several other themes, too, Paul said, including the timeless concept of carpe diem.
“The moral of the play is that if you just open your eyes and are conscious of what is right in front of you, you’re probably having more adventures than you think you are,” Paul said.
While The Matchmaker may apply to front-page themes, another play uses more classical ideas — with a twist.
Opening on Nov. 8 at the center’s Kogod Theatre is Molière Impromptu, a comedic, contemporary adaptation of three plays written by Molière.
“Molière in general is popular right now,” said Matthew Wilson, director of Molière Impromptu and a doctoral student in theater and performance studies at the university.
The play uses masks and period costumes but adds a contemporary spin, creating “a really modern flair on a classical template,” Wilson said. It’s designed by graduate students, with undergraduate students filling the cast, he said.
Molière Impromptu bounces from actors putting on the show to speaking about the plays, creating a dialogue that asks larger questions: Where is the line between making a joke and making fun? What is theater’s place in society?
“It’s a very gorgeous show to look at and to watch,” he said.
The Matchmaker opens today at CSPAC’s Kay Theatre; Molière Impromptu opens Nov. 8 at CSPAC’s Kogod Theatre; tickets for both plays are $10 for students and $25 for the public. For more information, visit claricesmithcenter.umd.edu.