The last two weekends I’ve seen two different comic one-act shows, the first a mid-century detective noir musical parody at the Signature in Arlington, the second, put in the Atlas on H Street, a meta play where Emma and Don Juan(who is doing community service for seducing the wrong women) try to match up characters from different works that they think might go well together. I think they were both world premieres, though I don’t have that confirmed for Miss Emma’s Matchmaking. Both were entertaining enough, though Miss Emma’s Matchmaking Service was far funnier, if only because it was written as a laugh-a-minute play. Both had far more entertainment than quality though. And in both, the two leads pretty much found themselves upstaged by the other actors who played all the supporting roles.
This was especially true for Cloak and Dagger, which had a cast of four: the detective, the heroine, and two other men who played mobsters, burlesque dancers, subway passengers, sailors, romantic rivals for both hero and heroine, and other seedy figures. Their turn as burlesque dancers was arguably the highlight of the show. Meanwhile, the hero and heroine weren’t given much to contribute by the script, though maybe they got a little more out of their songs, the heroine especially. Perhaps it said something that the detective in Cloak and Dagger wasn’t nearly as entertaining as Phillip Marlowe in Miss Emma’s Matchmaking, even though the latter was only on the stage for five minutes. Miss Emma’s Matchmaking had two actors and two actresses to play 13 literary clients of the agency. The highlight might have been when the two men came in as Holmes and Watson, which the script unapologetically made obviously gay for each other.
Contrary to what one might expect, the title character in Miss Emma’s Matchmaking doesn’t remind one too much of the Austen character, especially since unlike her clients, she was in modern dress. As was Don Juan, but he’s a bit of a archetype these days anyway, and the script actually provided more for him than her, if only by making him the Only Sane Man for much of the play, and being shown as actually decent enough a person he worries about Esther Greenwood after her date doesn’t work out and even calls her phone to try to keep her from committing suicide. Although that might have just been to justify hooking Emma up with him at the end, which still felt more random than satisfactory. Indeed, the fact that both plays insisted on a happy ending might have been detriment to them; they both got a little too cheerful, Cloak and Dagger especially.
We saw Cloak and Dagger on its final weekend, but Miss Emma’s Matchmaking has four more performances, all in July, and it’s worth seeing, if only for the humour.