By Beatrice Williams-Rude
The theater is all a-twitter with birds this season what with two takes on The Sea Gull and now the turkey, Le Dindon in French, which in this case can be called the laughing bird.
A sex farce by Georges Feydeau– it’s been translated from the French by Mark Shanahan as The DingDong, a synonym for a jerk, a turkey, as in a silly fool, rather than Thanksgiving dinner. Synonyms might include “putz” and “smuck” from the German and Yiddish.
But no matter the noun, The DingDong is laugh-out-loud hilarious. It’s been precisely directed by Hal Brooks, who’s also the Pearl’s artistic director.
It’s always a joy to attend a performance at The Pearl. The company members seem like old friends, including most of those in the current cast: Bradford Cover, Brad Heberlee, Chris Mixon and Rachel Botchan. New to the company but not to the New York scene is Kelley Curran, who explodes like a firecracker every time she steps on stage.
The play opens with Lucy Vatelin, (Rachel Botchan), the beautiful wife of a lawyer. being followed home by an admirer, M. Pontegnac (Bradford Cover) who forces his way into her home only to discover that her husband (Chris Mixon) is an old college friend.
The reunion is interrupted by the arrival of Mme. Pontegnac who has been following her satyr husband. Both women agree that should they catch their husband in flagrante delicto they would respond in kind: “An eye for an eye.”
Four of the cast members have multiple roles: Rachel Botchan is the beautiful wife, the center of the activity. She also plays Mme. Pinchard, the doctor’s deaf, dowdy, slightly older, sweet, devoted, flatulent wife. She is convincing and charming in both roles.
The tough, determined, angry Mme. Pontegnac is played by Kelley Curran as is the wild, passionate Italian beauty, Fabiola, in addition to Mandy, the Manhattan nymph, who knows what she likes, plus the stereotypical sexy French maid. She is brilliantly over-the-top in all.
As Pontegnac the cad, the “horn-dog,” and Soldignac, a Hungarian business man who is also a boxer, as well as Dr. Pinchard, a country doctor in Paris to celebrate his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, Bradford Cover is beyond splendid. His happy dance alone is worth the price of admission.
The always dependable Chris Mixon valiantly plays the sore-beset, clueless Vatelin, a wealthy lawyer and husband of Lucy Vatelin.
Whether he’s Redillon, the man of the world, or the 17-year-old virgin bellboy, or as the policeman, Brad Heberlee is a delight.
Farce requires split-second timing and Hal Brooks’ direction meets the challenge as do all his players. Slamming doors, confusion about who’s behind the doors, hotel rooms, women in scanties, men trapped in their underwear and people running hither and thither. The humor is sexual, scatological and above all, physical.
Mark Shanahan has updated this belle époque play to the 1930s, the time of screwball comedies. That makes one of the last lines particularly ironic: As this droll ode to marriage is coming to its happy conclusion Vatelin remarks, “It’s Paris in 1938. I think only good times are headed our way!”
The beautiful and appropriate sets are by Sandra Goldmark. The fitting and fun costumes are by Amy Clark; lighting by Mike Inwood and sound design by Mikhail Fiksel.
The works of Georges Feydeau with which New Yorkers may be most familiar are Irma la Douce, Hotel Paradiso and A Flea in Her Ear. But anybody looking for a laugh-fest would be well advised to make the acquaintance of The DingDong.
The DingDong is at The Pearl Theater, 555 West Forty-Second Street (between Tenth and Eleventh Aves.). It will run through May 15 – Running Time 2 hrs. (with intermission)
Photo: Russ Rowland