A Slightly BIASed View of The Matchmaker

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While many people preferred sitting in their heated homes, watching flat-screen TVs as the wave of heavy rain rolled in, I opted to brave the elements to go and see the BIAS (Bar Ilan Acting Society) rendition of “The Matchmaker” by Thornton Wilder. Thankfully a gap in the rain allowed me to get into the theatre without being soaked to the skin and I found myself a seat close to the stage.

BIAS isn’t your run of the mill theatre group at all. Not only are they an amateur group with a near-professional stage and equipment, BIAS prides itself on being a “shomer negia” group. This means that every play has to cleverly work around scenes where the actors would kiss, dance, or even hold hands in order to keep that particular stringency of religious law. Knowing that in advance, I was looking forward to how BIAS would reinterpret a play that even its director admitted employed “physical comedy.”

Surprisingly, despite the dismal weather, the play started on time. It began with the introduction of the stodgy Horace Vandergelder (played by Jack Forman) who is obsessed with his own opinions and importance. Horace spends the scene awkwardly berating the starving artist Ambrose Kemper (Played by Yuval Maskovitz) for wanting to marry his niece as the barber tries to give Horace a shave. My suspicions that the “no touching” rule would affect the play were already apparent in the second scene. I noticed that when the shy Ermengarde (played by Gitah Reinitz) rushes out to meet her lover, Ambrose, they come close to hugging but then suddenly stop and she settles for posing shyly before him.

Amusingly for a play with little to no effects, the thunderstorm outside kept up a constant pattern of foreshadowing that both contributed and detracted from the play depending on when the next thunderclap hit. Thankfully, the actors and actresses projected well and even without a proper sound system it was possible to hear every word. One of the actresses in the play told me that at the time she was worried how the thunder would affect both the audience and the actors, but she didn’t notice it at all when she was onstage.

One of the obvious shining stars of the play was Shavit Levine, who played Irene Malloy. Possibly inspired by the Cleopatra of Shakespearian fame, Irene is the stereotypical woman who feels confined by her limitations and wants to break out and enjoy life. Her feminine manipulations of the hapless “rich” Cornelius Hackl was one of the major sources of both drama and humor as she talks him into treating her and Minnie (Kyra Young) to a dinner in style – which Hackl has no means to pay for.

It was in that dinner scene that the actors’ inability to touch the opposite gender made another glaring appearance. Irene, who consistently positioned herself flirtatiously close to Cornelius is teaching him how to dance. Rather than dance with him herself and take advantage of the situation, she comically elects to have him dance with the other clerk, Barnaby Tucker (Dan Horovitz), as she waves her arms about like a conductor. The change was workable, but jarring.

I personally found the soliloquies slightly dry and found my mind wandering during the longer ones. I would much prefer that the actors did something dramatic on stage or acted out the monologues in another way to keep my interest from wandering into non-play related subjects. Still, I found that any time that there was more than one performer on stage; I forgot the reservations I had a moment before about the play’s quality and was again immersed in the world presented to me. While the “moral” of the play felt like it was tacked on last minute by the director and really didn’t contribute much to the play itself in any meaningful way, it didn’t harm it either since it really came so far at the end that I could safely ignore it.

I really enjoyed the play and I’d definitely recommend it, even more so because as theatre lovers, you have the unique opportunity to see the same play preformed and interpreted differently by another theatre group not long after. “The Matchmaker” will also be performed by JEST (the Jerusalem English Speaking Theatre beginning March 10th. Since JEST doesn’t share in the religious limitations of BIAS, it will be really interesting to see and compare the two.

The Matchmaker will be performed in English. One can buy tickets in advance for 25 shekel by calling Doni Cozer at 050-973-3563 for the performance on Wednesday the 20th at 8pm. Ticket purchase at the door is 35 shekel. For more information on The Matchmaker and BIAS: http://www.barilanacting.com/

The JEST production of “The Matchmaker will take place on the 10th, 11th and 17th of March at 8pm and on the 15th and 18th of March at 6 pm at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel.

Image credit: Elizur Reuveni