BWW Reviews: The Mint Digs Up 1930 French Farce, DONOGOO
It's to the great credit of the spirited company of actors, projection designers Roger Hanna and Price Johnson and French playwright Jules Romains himself, that the Mint Theater Company's new production of Donogoo always feels like something wildly funny is just about to happen.
A zany farce from 1930 satirizing European colonialism, Romains' "comedy in 23 tableaux" has all the makings of a vehicle that might have been driven by the brothers Ritz or Marx, but translator/director Gus Kaikkonen's text is sadly void of solid punch lines and his staging is similarly zing-less.
Which is a shame, because the juicy plot seems richly ripe for hilarity. James Riordan, the only member of the baker's dozen of player who doesn't play multiple roles, opens the evening as the depressed and suicidal Lamendin, who is interrupted from his attempt to jump from Paris' Moselle Bridge by a chance meeting with old pal Benin (Mitch Greenberg).
After a wine break at an outdoor café, Benin takes Lamendin to see an erudite psychoanalyst (George Morfogen) who straps him to some modern analytical contraption. Through his convoluted diagnosis, the patient winds up with a chance meeting with a disgraced geography professor (also Morfogen) who was booted from academia for publishing a book that confirmed the existence of a gold-laden South American village called Donogoo-Tonka, unaware that it was some prankster's fiction.
Seeing an opportunity, Lamendin devises a plot to save the professor's reputation and earn a tidy sum by convincing investors, journalists and pioneering fortune-seekers that Donogoo-Tonka is real. Soon there is a booming tourist industry centered on trips to this village that nobody has been too.
But when a group of pioneers grow frustrated with their unsuccessful search, they decide to settle in an unpopulated region of South America and start calling it Donogoo-Tonka. As the now real village starts to thrive, Lamendin resolves to conquer and colonize it, to keep it from ruining his fictional village.
Such antics certainly must have left Frenchmen chortling in the early 20th Century (along with some bits of casual racism that are quite discomforting today) but Kaikkonen's script and staging are steeped in too much realism to suit the farcical situation. Riordan has his amusing moments as the befuddled everyman who grows drunk with power but the whole company seems to be aching for a chance to let loose.
The animated projections by Hanna and Johnson steal the show with their cartoon imagery that enhances the comical storytelling and clever moments that mix three-dimensional reality with two-dimensional drawings. However, a projected image of a character's physical reaction to seasickness, while technically impressive, may have gilded the lily a bit.