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The Dingdong

Clever, witty Americanized adaptation of the 1896 classic Feydeau farce has been turned into a screwball comedy of the 1930’s.

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Brad Heberlee and Kelley Curran in a scene from “The Dingdong” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

Brad Heberlee and Kelley Curran in a scene from “The Dingdong” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Although Georges Feydeau’s 1896 Le Dindon is one of his three most popular farces in France, it is hardly ever revived in New York. The untranslatable title, literally, “The Turkey” or “The Dupe,” has been retitled Sauce for the Goose and An Absolute Turkey for contemporary British revivals. Now the Pearl Theatre Company is presenting the world premiere of Mark Shanahan’s clever American adaptation called The Dingdong as part of its first rotating repertory season. Besides, inspired by the Hollywood screwball comedies of the Golden Age of film and updated to 1938, the cast has been reduced from 18 to five, with a telephone that stands in for servants and managers who no longer appear. This requires a great many quick changes from the talented cast under the direction of Hal Brooks. The actors often exit and return momentarily as someone else.

Farce uses a great many doors with its need for characters hiding from each other or just missing each other or running into each other in all the wrong places. Sandra Goldmark’s three attractive Paris settings are no exception with their four doors in each scene leading to closets, corridors, bathrooms, or other rooms. Bourgeois wife Lucy Vatelin (Rachel Botchan) has been followed home by a man who has been stalking her for a week. When her husband Charles (Chris Mixon) gets a sight of him, it turns out that Ernest Pontegnac (Bradford Cover) is an old college friend who has been promising to visit but never has. When Valetin’s friend, the roué Redillon (Brad Heberlee, in beret, swirling mustache and bohemian attire) arrives, Pontegnac correctly surmises that he is pursuing Lucy unbeknownst to her husband.

However, the old “horndog” is followed to the Vatelins by his rightly suspicious wife, the spitfire Claudia (Kelley Curran). When Vatelin, a lawyer, receives a visit from Italian bombshell Fabiola Soldignac (Curran again), it turns out it is not for his legal skills but to continue an affair started when he did some business for her husband in Rome. When the Hungarian Soldignac (Cover) follows his wife to this address, they nearly meet. Ultimately, Mme. Pontegnac opens Lucy’s eyes to what is going on and they vow to cuckold their husbands if they can catch them in dilecto flagrante. As Lucy says, she won’t go first, but she will certainly go second.

Rachel Botchan, Bradford Cover and Chris Mixon in a scene from “The Dingdong” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

Rachel Botchan, Bradford Cover and Chris Mixon in a scene from “The Dingdong” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

All meet up in Room 18 of the Hotel Ultimus where Vatelin has arranged his assignation with Fabiola and where Potegnac brings Lucy, hoping to convince her to pay her husband back once she catches him at adultery. Add in Dr. Pinchard and his deaf wife (Cover and Botchan) in Paris to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary (despite her gassy stomach) assigned the same room, and Mandy (Curran), a liberated New Yorker just breaking up with her boyfriend, and a merry romp is on. Being run off his feet by all of their needs and requests is the virginal Bellboy (Heberlee) who immediately falls into lust for Mandy when he sees her in her underwear. The final scene takes place in Redillon’s apartment in the Honeymoon Suite of the Hotel Rue Cromartin (“I’m going to end up there anyway, so why not?”) in which all the main couples descend to sort things out. The play has a happy ending for the faithful couples and the jury is still out as to how things transpire for the others.

Shanahan’s adaptation has a great many delicious one-liners and double-entendres (“I don’t go out for mutton when I can have filet mignon at home;” “Keep referring to me as a plate of food and you’ll be dining à la carte;” “I put a leash on my ‘inner beast’ and take him out for a walk every once in a while;” “Looks like you have a bad case of the puberty, kid. You should see a doctor,”) as well as witty exchanges between the warring couples. Much of the fun of the play is seeing the same actors return over and over again in different roles often within a matter of seconds. Best is Kelly Curran who throws herself into four very different women, one more enticing than the other: the Parisian vixen Claudia Pontegnac, the tempestuous Italian Fabiola Soldignac (think Anna Magnani), the oversexed New Yawker Mandy, and a very sexy French maid in bouffant costume with a feather duster.

All of the others are members of The Pearl’s resident company and will be recognizable to long-time patrons. Rachel Botchan is chic as the heroine Lucy, not quite as notable as deaf Mme. Pinchard. Bradford Cover is suave as the cad Pontegnac, eccentric as the Hungarian Soldignac, not as defined as Dr. Pinchard. Brad Heberlee has great fun with his three characters: the lecherous dandy Redillon, the sexually innocent Bellboy at the Hotel Ultimus, and a brief appearance as an Inspector Clouseau-type policeman. Chris Mixon, the only actor to play only one role, gives able support as the often clueless Vatelin.

Kelley Curran and Chris Mixon in a scene from “The Dingdong” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

Kelley Curran and Chris Mixon in a scene from “The Dingdong” (Photo credit: Russ Rowland)

While Brooks’ staging is stylish and elegant, and keeps the actors from getting in each other’s way with no discernable mishaps at the performance under review, important in this kind of farce, he has directed as though the play were an elaborate game of comedy of manners. The problem becomes that the stakes are not very high, and consequently we don’t worry or care enough about the possibity tragedies for the characters if and when they are discovered. If the play is making a statement about love and marriage, it seems to get lost in all the shenanigans.

However, the rest of the production team is right on target. To suggest screwball comedy of the 1930’s Goldmark’s first setting for the Valetin’s drawing room is all in grey, white and black, while the more madcap scenes in the hotel suites in the following scenes introduce very bright colors. Amy Clark’s costumes are the height of chic and define the various nationalities of the personalities. The lighting by Mike Inwood remains very bright for this lighter-than-air charade. Rick Sordelet’s fight direction appears to go off like clockwork.

The Dingdong (performed in rotating repertory with Stupid Fu**ing Bird through May 15, 2016)

The Pearl Theatre, 555 W. 42nd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-563-9261 or visit http://www.pearltheatre.org

Running time: two hours and 10 minutes including one intermission

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Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (535 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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