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When we first meet Lamendin (James Riordan), the antihero of Jules Romains' Dorongoo, he's only kept from leaping off the Moselle Bridge into the Canal St. Martin in Paris by his friend Benin (Mitch Greenberg). But Benin's sending him to Miguel Rufisque (George Morfogen) a psychotherapist with a very un-Freudian way of treating the suicidally inclined results in quite a transformation. The down in the dumps, failed architect-painter sheds the shabby jacket that his friend says would only go with is a pair of harem pants for more sartorial splendor. And as his appearance changes, so does his persona. From not knowing what to do other than end it all, Lamendin becomes an assured and persuasive huckster, as likely to sell you that bridge than jump off it.
I could try to found your sacred village...Donogoo-Tonka . . .
And if I found it, it will be better than it was the last time, because
this time it will be real. — Lamendin to Trouhadec the geographer whose reputation was damaged by his publishing a paper referencing a non-existent place.
And you know how to found a city? — Trouhadec
Oh, not at all. But that won't be more difficult than other things.
When one is in the kind of condition I've been in since this
morning, it's curious how everything the world foists on you
becomes the same thing. Pick a lock, seduce the queen of
England, found the village of Donogoo-Tonka.— Lamendin
As Romains' Dr. Knock was a farcical send-up of pseudo-science, so Donogoo takes on business. In this case ambition and uninhibited by truth imagination combine to transform fraud into fact. Lambedin's scheme works. A marketing campaign fires up investors, pioneers and prospectors everywhere to seek their fortunes in a place that Lambedin and his cohorts count they will make more than a name on a map.
But though Romains (1885-1972) was regarded as Paris's 20th Century Moliere and was once as popular as Shaw, his plays are rarely if ever produced nowadays. That is, until the Mint Theater, that invaluable retriever of long neglected plays, recruited Gus Kaikkonen, one of its most gifted collaborators, to rescue Romains from the cemetery of forgotten playwrights.
Last season Kaikkonen expertly and amusingly translated and directed the satire about the charlatan doctor unable to look anyone in the eye without feeling an often useless diagnosis coming on.( Dr. Knok review ). The Mint's many loyal patrons will also remember his splendid direction of the best and most enduring play about a financial scandal, Harley Granville Barker's The Voysey Inheritance (review). So who better to introduce Mint audiences to Donogoo's cynical take on shady business practices along with pseudo-scientific therapies.
Kaikkonen's translation has an easy contemporary flavor. While free of jarring modernism, the text nevertheless features a number of sly references to underscore that there's nothing dated about financial profiteering and marketing strategies that promise more than they can deliver. The skulduggery we witness is no more outlandish, but a lot funnier, than the more recent financial crisis.
Unlike Dr. Knock which worked without extensive scenery and with a manageable eight member cast, Donogoo is a dauntingly big play with more than sixty characters and twenty-three scenes in different locations. Together with Roger Hanna and Price Johnston, Kaikkonen has met what would be a challenge even for a large organizations. They've created all those tableaux with digital technology and only a few actual props. This mostly projected scenery is not just a smart solution for handling multiple locations economically and efficiently, but is brilliantly and entertainingly done. The digitilazed scenery takes us all over the world and features moving trains, cafes, a San Francisco Chinese food automat and, ultmately, the Brazilian jungle where Donogoo is supposed to be.
The barometric evaluation treatment is administered to Lamandin (James Riordan) by Dr. Miguel Rufisque (George Morfogen) and his man servant (Vladimir Versailles).
(Photo: Richard Termine)
This is one of the best and most inventive uses of projections as scenery that I've ever seen. It's as if this play has been waiting for modern technology to do it justice. What's more, the staging ratchets up the comedy and comes close to stealing the show. The sound, lighting and costume designers add to the excellence of the production values, with Sam Fleming's costumes especially apt and amusing.
Of course, with all these characters, casting has its own special demands. This too is ably dealt with. A baker's dozen of actors, all of whom except James Riordan's Lemandin and Ross Bickell's opportunistic bank director Margajat, take on the play's huge array of passerbys, swindled stockholders and swindlers.
Riordan handles his Lemandin's many permutations without missing a line. He segues smoothly from insecure sadsack to audacious scoundrel. If the laughs one expects from an over the top farce like this don't always land, it may be that Kaikkonen hasn't propelled the action forward at quite the called for frenetic pace.
Though the set-up taking Lemandin from aborted suicide to execution of the quackish therapist's prescripton takes a while to ignite, the comedy builds as the unsubstantiated stock offering draws in investors throughout the world and eventually lands them in Donogoo, or rather the Donogoo to be. As always, the Mint offers audiences a rare chance to see a fascinatingly staged play by a once famous but now forgotten playwright.
Paul Pontrelli, Kraig Swartz, Dave Quay, Scott Thomas, and Jay Patterson in
Donogoo, or what will be Donogoo. (Photo: Richard Termine)
For more pictures of how this witty misadventure builds from fraudulent fancy to fanciful reality, check out the Mint's terrific website at http://minttheater.org. It also has a fascinating video
of the play in the making.
Donogoo by Jules Romains|
Directed by Gus Kaikkonen
Cast: Ross Bickell (Margajat),Mitch Greenberg (Benin; Man in colonial Saigan; Gold Prospector; 2nd Stockholder),George Morfogen (Miguel Rufisque; Le Trouhadee), Jay Patterson (3rd Passerby; Cafe Owner; Mattieu the Boss), Paul Pontrelli (1st Passerby; Gardener; Bois du Boulogne waiter: Indian Guide: Stewart; Newsboy), Dave Quay (Tour Guide; Marseilles Prostitute; Joris), Douglas Rees (Bank Director; Young Man's Friend; Tough Guy Adventurer; Journalist; Newcomer; German Client),James Riordan (Lamendin),Megan Robinson (2nd Passerby; Sophie; Trahoudec's Housekeeper; Woman in Colonial Saigon; Woman in Audience; Photographer; Travel Agent; 1st Stockholder; Marie; Leila), Kraig Swartz (4th Passerby; Cafe Waiter; American 2nd Adventurer; Seasick Pioneer; 3rd Stockholder; Other Woman), Scott Thomas (Bartender; Projectionist; Cowboy; Joseph), Brian Thomas Vaughan (5th Passerby; Young Man), Vladimir Versailles (Rufiesque's Man Servant; Native Boy; Elevator Operator; Clipoteauxx).
Scenic Design by Roger Hanna
Projections:Roger Hanna and Price Johnston
Costume Design by Sam Fleming
Lighting Design by Price Johnston
Original Music and Sound:Jane Shaw
Props: Joshua Yucom
Wigs: Gerald Kelly
Stage Manager: Lisa McGinn
Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, including 1 intermission
311 West 43rd Street www.minttheater.org
From 6/03/14; opening 6/23/14; closing 7/27/13
Tuesday to Thursday at 7pm; Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 2pm and 8pm
Sunday at 2pm.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at June 18th press performance
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