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A CurtainUp Review
The Matchmaker
The disease of the single life is a curse beyond curing when it catches hold.
---Dicky Mick Dicky O'Connor, a farmer who decides to help the many lonely folks in his rural County Kerry town to cure that cursed disease by matching them up with others equally afflicted.
Anna Manahan
Anna Manahan (Photo: Tom Lawlor)
Dicky Mick Dicky O'Connor's matchmaking efforts aren't always unqualified successes. Fionnuala Crust, a widow claiming to be forty-one (which is probably the age of her daughter) is matched up with a man who can't, as she puts it "leave a mark on her" because even if she was "teasing and tearing him till doomsday he wouldn't come to life,". When this mismatch leaves her widowed and he pairs her with a second man for half the original twenty pound fee only to have history repeat itself leading her to badger him him for a refund. While all ends well for Fionnualar on the third try (with a former race track jockey whose miniscule physique belies his unseen endowments) there's another lonely heart whose match with a very big woman ends up literally being the death of him.

The most successful match in this epistolary comedy is the on stage match of Des Keogh and Anna Manahan. Keogh's relaxed performance reflects that he's spent the better part of last year touring The Matchmaker throughout Ireland. Besides his splendid portrayal of the title character, he easily transforms himself into all his male clients -- as well as the priest who arrives in Ballybarra to launch a campaign to end his "unholy matchmaking." Ms. Manahan, best known to American audiences as the monstrous Mag Foley in The Beauty Queen of Leenane (Our Review) inhabits all the female parts with versatility and wit to match. Her horny Fionnuala Crust is every bit as crusty as her name implies (Dicky Mick Dicky's own name is something of a double entendre in the light of the running gag about men having troubles with the male "apparatus " often associated with O'Connor's first and third name). Manahan also sparkles as Dicky Mick Dicky's loving sister Madge in Philadelphia -- and, in a wonderful scene in which the actors prove themselves even more enjoyable together than alternating as letter writing narrator-subjects. Both deliver the colorful and often bawdy expressions in thick Irish brogues that are nevertheless easy to understand, even without the program glossary

Phyllis Ryan's adaptation of Mr. Kean's novella wisely sticks to the epistolary style since it works well to reveal the assorted Ballybarra lonely hearts and to connect the story to America through the Philadelphia sister. Little is needed, or supplied, in the way of stagecraft bells and whistles -- a few tables and chairs, a bench, some filled coat wracks for an occasional change of jacket or hat. Mr. Keane's linguistically rich script is all these terrific actors need to bring the play's twenty quirky characters to life.

While this is not simply a one-person play times two, The Matchmaker, does fall short as a fully satisfying play. Its emphasis on the running jokes about sex-starved spinsters and men unable to feed their appetites tends to overshadow the poignancy of the deep-seated isolation and neediness of these 1950s era rural residents, as well as the emigrants like the Philadelphia man Madge refers to her matchmaking brother. This is briefly evident through Dicky Micky Dicky's loss of his own mate but by the time it happens, the impotence gags , no matter how colorful, have grown somewhat stale from overuse. The sexual frankness, which includes one wife-seeker's preference for a young boy, can no longer carry the play as it might have years ago.

Fortunately there's nothing remotely tiresome about Keogh and Manahan. May their stage match lead to a happily ever after acting association.

By John B. Keane
Adapted by Phyllis Ryan
Directed by Michael Scott
Cast: Des Keogh and Anna Manahan
Set Design: Michael McCaffery
Costume Design: Synaan O'Mahoney
Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes including one fifteen minute intermission
Irish Reperetory, 132 W. 22nd St. (6th/7th Aves) 212/727-2737
2/05/02-3/31/02; opening 2/10/02.
Tues-Sat 8pm, with Wed. matinees at 2pm and Sat and Sunday matinees at 3pm--$35-$40

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 2/12/02 performance.
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