Review by Ann Firestone Ungar
The DingDong, a first-rate farce presented by The Pearl Theatre Company, is based on Le Dindon by the French playwright Georges Feydeau (1885-1921). Adapted by Mark Shanahan, The DingDong plays fast and loose and is often ferociously funny and somewhat surreal. There’s lots of physical comedy here on a handsome and cleverly functional set of Paris hotel rooms with many doors, all the more to confuse you with who enters here, who exits there, alone or with whom, dressed or undressed or half way there. Think negligees and garter belts. Think Noises Off and you’ll be in the right seat; perhaps you’ll buy a couple right now from the estimable Pearl.
So what’s a DingDong? It’s of course that unmentionable between your legs. It’s also the play’s characters who find themselves led by their unmentionables into the profoundly confusing, desperate and finally almost serious business of betrayal. And that’s what’s at stake.
Set in upper middle-class French society, five actors play thirteen characters. Lucy, wife of Vatelin, (Rachel Botchan) is being pursued relentlessly by Pontegnac (Bradford Cover) who is also married. She rejects him outright, but finally tells him that she would only be unfaithful to her husband if he were unfaithful to her. The act would be a gesture of revenge. With that information Pontegnac has found his way into her private life. Vatelin (Chris Mixon) finds the two together and welcomes Pontegnac as his old school buddy. In comes Redillon, a lecherous dandy with a good heart (Brad Heberlee), and Mme. Pontegnac (Kelley Curran), a shrewd, suspicious sophisticate. Vatelin confesses to Pontegnac that he was unfaithful to his wife once in Rome, and that woman, Fabiola, is suddenly in Paris. He doesn’t want to see her, but in the end he does. And it’s a hilarious mess in another hotel with all of these characters plus Mme. Pinchard (gaseous, but sweet), her husband, Pinchard, faithful but leaning toward not; Mandy, a savvy New Yorker, the Bellboy and a French maid. Have I left anyone out? Oh yes, there’s Jerome, unseen and unheard, as the guy at the front desk who gets into the action, but off-stage. And a Policeman. And another husband, Soldignac.
I won’t be a spoiler any further except to say that Pontegnac maneuvers successfully to get Lucy to spy on the assignation between her husband Vatelin and Fabiola, thus pushing her into the arms of that cad, Pontegnac. When it all shakes down, Redillon maneuvers to help the Vatelin couple make peace. It’s clear that the husband loves his wife and doesn’t want to jeopardize their marriage. But on the way to this resolution, without the slapstick and door-slamming in what would have been an ugly play about a faithless bunch, so much stuff happens. And that’s farce. In French, “farce” means “stuffing,” as in turkey, “le dindon.” It’s the side dish to substantive drama. But what’s dinner without the sides?
Excellently directed by Hal Brooks, lovely to look at thanks to scenic designer, Sandra Goldmark, and costume designer Amy Clark, The DingDong is a lot of fun. And in the end, sex seems to be happening (finally) when Redillon, exhausted from Mandy, gets into bed with the maid. Vive La France!
This play probably has a great future cast as all-gay or lesbian characters, and any racial mix would work nicely. But directors beware: The Pearl Theatre Company of actors is highly skilled with the requirements of farce: facility with speed of dialogue and emotional changes, physical dexterity (nicely orchestrated here by fight director Rick Sordelet), and a balanced, light and yet authentic attention to characterization.
Thank you, Pearl; you’re a jewel.
THE DINGDONG – adapted from Georges Feydeau’s Le Dindon by Mark Shanahan and directed by Hal Brooks
WITH: Rachel Botchan (Lucy and Mme. Pinchard), Bradford Cover (Pontegnac, Soldignac, Pinchard), Chris Mixon (Vatelin), Brad Heberlee (Redillon, Bellboy, Policeman), Kelley Curran (Mms. Pontegnac, Fabiola, Mandy, French Maid)
Presented by The Pearl Theatre Company, 555 West 42 Street, New York, NY; tickets can be purchased by visiting pearltheatre.org or by calling 212-563-9261. Through May 15, 2016; running time 2 hours, 15 minutes with one intermission