The Dingdong: Theater review by Sandy MacDonald
The farce spectrum can veer from crude (early Commedia dell’arte) to exquisite (Wilde). Mark Shanahan, loosely adapting a justifiably forgotten Feydeau trifle from 1896, tends to favor the lower depths: lots of puerile wink-wink wordplay and pratfalls both sexual and scatological. He made a clever choice in reducing Feydeau’s plethora of romantically entangled characters to a budget-friendly quintet of players, most assuming multiple roles. In casting ill-matched repertory members d’un certain age, however, director Hal Brooks blunts the spirit of the original.
What are we to make of a fiftyish Don Juan, one Monsieur Pontegnac (Bradford Cover), who, struck by a lustful coup de foudre, has spent a week stalking a perfectly ordinary-looking matron, Lucy Vatelin (Rachel Botchan), before staging a home invasion? It’s like watching John Cleese (silly walks are prominent in Cover’s comic arsenal) macking on Molly Picon. Lucy at one point refers to herself as being “in the flush of my youth” (Feydeau specified age 25). The altered chronology throws off the chemistry.
Company members Chris Mixon and Brad Heberlee take on other male roles: Mixon as Lucy’s ineffectual lawyer husband, and Heberlee as a bellboy and cop and also a self-styled Romeo, Monsieur Redillon, who—this being Paree—sports the requisite beret and absurd mustache, along with capris and sockless loafers.
Shanahan has moved the action to the 1930s, and costumer Amy Clark and set designer Sandra Goldmark pretty much follow suit (although hotel rooms swathed in Marimekko somewhat skew the time line). Clark deserves kudos for providing Kelly Curran—the one non-rep member of the cast—with fabulous outfits to suit her four roles: Pontegnac’s virago of a vengeful wife, ever the fashion plate even when fulminating; a luscious if tempestuous Italian inamorata; an ambitious New Yawk courtesan; and, finally, a cheerfully complaisant French maid.
The stage sizzles to life every time Curran turns up, and it’s not just her sexy ensembles. In body language and attitude, she embodies what we bourgeois theatergoers rather hope to see when attending a French farce: not doughy midlifers rutting in their undershirts and garters, but an attractive soubrette prepared to fling aside all restraints.—Sandy MacDonald
Pearl Theatre Company (Off Broadway). By Georges Feydeau. Adapted by Mark Shanahan. Directed by Hal Brooks. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 15mins. One intermission.