Review by Kathleen Campion
The Mint Theater Company on West 43rd Street has a fusty feel about it and the mission statement underscores its studied eccentricity: “…We excavate buried theatrical treasures…”
In Donogoo, Mint has excavated what it bills as “A Comedy in 23 Tableaux.” Written as a novel, in French, in the 1920’s, this excavation may have been ill considered.
The satirical plot kicks off with a suicidal young man redeemed by a mission: he’s to save the reputation of a famous geographer who’s created the Brazilian town called “Donogoo” out of whole cloth. The young man sets about getting bankers and investors, adventurers and con artists to validate the town’s existence. Hilarity is meant to ensue.
Donogoo’s thirteen cast members work hard offering up at least 55 characters.
The stand out player, Mitch Greenberg, is oily and wonderful. He’s the one you watch. And while he plays the same character in various suits, he is disarmingly genuine in his superficiality. You not only forgive him; you wait for him.
As it is a period piece, we are meant to slip into a slower time, a talkier time. Strangely, the quick transitions between tableaux do little to relieve the sluggish pace of the long speeches and redundancies. There was a lot to memorize, and at least two of the leads stumbled regularly.
When the set is the star of the evening, the play and the players have lost the audience. The sets and projections here are stunningly inventive. Characters board the Paris Metro, and it slides out of the station. A nutty professor’s mathematical musing appear under his moving chalk at light speed. A character pulls a three-dimensional book from a one-dimensional book shelf. I could go on.
The point is, Roger Hanna’s projected images present us with so many charming turns, we wait on the set to entertain us again. Hanna’s done seven Mint productions, and his blurb in the program notes his day job at Colorado State University. What is he smoking? He should be here all the time, making this magic.
There are some wonderful laugh lines and, as the work is a farce, they are played broadly.
One of Greenberg’s characters urges men of questionable skill and character to join the expedition to Donogoo:
“…I can use all sorts of men. Even someone with no skills at all–a journalist say…”
Lamendin, the redeemed young man (James Riordan) offers his very French world view:
“Consider America—I mean, in its entirety—isn’t it just one big mistake?
“Is that a little severe?” Benin objects.
“I’m talking about Christopher Columbus,” Lamedin protests. “Is there a bigger sham? He’s looking for the Indies and bumps into America.”
Closer to home, the bank manager comments on the fashionable self-loathing of the French:
“But, now…just as our mission arrives in Donogoo, why would you bullies kick us in the kidneys? Why? Because that’s just what Parisians do!
My guest said Donogoo is the sort of thing a really good boys’ prep school might put on. That may sound harsh, but Donogoo has that feel. There are lots of stock male roles, and a certain amount of mugging to the audience wrapped in the respectability of a now obscure French poet.
The between-the-wars giddiness, the Tulip Bubble nature of the gambit, the smug jibes at bankers and scientists — exactly the sort of script a classics teacher who also produces the annual play, falls in love with.
Donogoo – By Jules Romains, translated and directed by Gus Kaikkonen
WITH: James, Riordan, Mitch Greenberg, Scott Thomas, George Morfogen, Vladimir Versailles, Dave Quay, Paul Pontrelli, Megan Robinson, Jay Patterson, Kraig Swartz, Brian Thomas Vaughan, Douglas Rees, and Ross Bickell.
Sets and projection by Roger Hanna with help from Price Johnston, costumes by Sam Fleming. Jane Hall did original music and sound, Joshua Yocom the props and Lisa McGinn stage managed with an assist from Laura Kim.
At the Mint Theater, 311 West 43rd Street in Manhattan (212) 315-9434. Running time: two hours, ten minutes including one intermission. Performances will be Tuesday through Thursday at 7 PM, Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM, and Sunday at 2 PM. Special added Wednesday Matinees on June 18th and July 9th at 2pm. PLEASE NOTE: There will be no performances on Tuesday evenings June 17th, June 24th, July 8th.
Tickets are $55 with some half-price tickets (CheapTix) and Premium Seats ($65) available for most performances. Performances take place on the Third Floor of 311 West 43rd Street.
Tickets are available by calling the Mint box office toll-free at 866-811-4111 or go to www.minttheater.org where you can also see video, photos, and more!