A Rowdy Romp
There’s no intermission to recover from laughing, so consult your cardiologist if necessary.by Bill Rodriguez, The Providence Phoenix
In his time, Georges Feydeau was to theater what McDonald’s is to cuisine — cheap, easy to consume, and wildly popular. Today his farces are seriously appreciated as late 19th-century precursors to absurdist humor, the juicy T-bone steaks of modern comedy.
2nd Story Theatre is serving up what they’re billing as Le Dindon or The Dupe (through April 13), a fast-paced knee-slapper jam-packed with comic protein. Dindon literally means turkey, used in the same disparaging sense as in English. The play is sometimes freely translated as “Sauce for the Goose,” as in the expression “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,” since it involves fists-on-hips marital revenge.
It all speeds by in 90 minutes, and there’s no intermission to recover from laughing, so consult your cardiologist if necessary.
In this hotel, there are gallivanting husbands and infuriated wives, a nervous and sexually inexperienced young man, a weepily jealous suitor and, as usual for Feydeau, a foolish authority figure.
Ed Shea, the theater’s artistic director, not only directs the play but has come up with his own translation, and it sounds as fancy-free as it could get. Which is a good thing. For example, at one point a woman referring to “my husband” is interrupted by her would-be seducer with “you mean your has-been.” There obviously was no equivalent play on words in the French, but who would trade extra chuckles for literal accuracy? Similarly, a Roquefort and a Fontina are zinged for having “cheesy names.” But the funniest addition is when, meaning “cuckolder,” someone says: “She’s a cockholder!” Hey, it’s plausible because it’s in a Texas accent.
Feydeau always found marital infidelity hilarious, as have the rest of the French, perhaps because they’ve always been so self-impressed about being good at it. So that’s the motor of most of his farces, such as A Flea In Her Ear, his most popular work, which Shea staged to hilarious effect in 2007 with some of the regulars who are doing so well again this time.
The conflicts are immediate, with Lucienne (Ashley Hunter Kenner) followed home by an unwanted lech, Pontagnac (Ara Boghigian). He soon learns that she is the wife of a casual acquaintance, Vatelin (Tom Bentley), but that hardly slows him down. The amorous optimist — he claims a 67 percent success rate — is given further reason for hope when she admits to Mme. Pontagnac (Hillary Parker) that however faithful she is now, she would cuckold her husband at the first opportunity if, and only if, she caught him en flagrante. (“That’s it!” her seducer-in-waiting says to us, wide-eyed.) Pontagnac has competition, though, as another erstwhile friend of Vatelin’s, Rédillon (Jeff Church), also has grinning eyes on her.
For his part, whether a turkey or goose, title character Vatelin also is chicken when he has a chance to reprise a tryst he had while visiting New York. The tough-talking woman, Anabelle (Rae Mancini), is a crude Texan visiting France and she is too much for him to handle.
Kenner is a beautiful delight here and, more importantly, makes Lucienne a smart and whimsical schemer, the fascinating center about which the farce twirls. Somehow Boghigian makes the cad Pontagnac likeable, nearly as tricky a task, though eased by sex being such a playful sport on this field.
The fun is enhanced by all the other comic types being trotted out: a ripe-for-seduction but nervous bellboy Victor (Brendan Macera), a by-turns stuffy and obsequious hotel manager (F. William Oakes), and a snarky, self-impressed butler (John Michael Richardson) too relied upon to be fired. A quietly comical couple is cavalry officer Pinchard (Jim Sullivan) and Mme. Pinchard (Pam Faulkner). The conventional opportunity wasn’t taken, with Pinchard being arrogant, puffed up for greater eventual deflation. Instead, Shea has the character enunciate excruciatingly slowly to his deaf wife, chewing on each word like a stale baguette. Sullivan makes this much funnier than you might think, a skill the 2nd Story regular frequently pulls off.
Period-perfect costumes by Ron Cesario and set design by Trevor Elliott, plus mood-appropriate background paintings (Renoir and Manet) by Candis Dixon and Ken Resseger complete the picture.
Once again, 2nd Story makes this don’t-miss theater.