Photo: Wesley Hitt, TheatreSquared
Translated into English, the French word “Dindon” means several things. One translation is ‘turkey.’ Another way to translate from the French yields “sauce for the goose,” which is perhaps the way French farce writer Georges Feydeau meant it when he wrote “Le Dindon” in 1896. That expression means something to the effect of “whatever you do, I will return upon you.” (I know nothing of French, by the way, but I know how to Google.)
What: TheatreSquared’s “The Dingdong”
When: Wed-Sun through June 4
Where: Nadine Baum Studios, Fayetteville
Tickets: Call 479-443-5600 or visit theatre2.org
That’s certainly the idea behind Mark Shanahan’s adaptation of the work, titled “The Dingdong,” and running through June 4 at Nadine Baum Studio courtesy of TheatreSquared. There are also a few ways to interpret the English-language slang word ‘dingdong,’ and all of them are meant in this sometimes bawdy but ultimately demure show.
It might be only mildly frisky, but it sure does tease.
Here’s how it goes: Lucy, played by Shannon Leigh Webber, suspicious of her lawyer husband Vatelin’s frequent business trips abroad, suspects he might be cheating on her while he is away. And if he is, she promises to return the favor. She has no shortage of men hoping to help her in that task. She’s followed home one day by the brutish and suggestive Pontegnac (played by T2 veteran Bruce Warren). His come-ons are stopped by the arrival of the playboy Redillon (Jordan Haynes), who also professes his love for Lucy. The day they all meet, Pontegnac is caught making his advances by the wife he had previously neglected to mention (played by Rebecca Rivas). She too promises to extract carnal revenge if she can catch her husband in the act. Oh, the French and their cavalier ways.
The activity and unexpected guests in their Parisian apartment fatigue Lucy, and she pledges to take a quick nap to recover. The moment she walks away and into her bedroom, a red-dress-wearing lover arrives to see Vatelin (played by Greg Jackson). This woman, Fabiola (also played by Rivas), was indeed a fling from a business trip to Italy. Vatelin ushers her away just before being caught, but promises to meet her later that evening.
Got all of that? You’d better hope so, because it only gets more hectic as things progress. Characters run across the stage, jump on beds and generally cause mayhem. It is a classic example of the kind of play referred to as a “bedroom farce,” in the style of familiar titles “Noises Off” and “Boeing Boeing.” Only one actor – Jackson, as Vatelin – plays just one role. Everyone else tackles at least two, changing costumes rapidly and adding accents or in one case, a silly walk to help differentiate between roles.
What: Playwright Mark Shanahan, “The Dingdong” director Morgan Hicks and T2 artistic director Robert Ford will gather for a discussion about the show at the Fayetteville Public Library.
When: 6:30 p.m. May 18
Where: Fayetteville Public Library
Info: Visit faylib.org
Despite the rapidly changing personnel and storyline, I found the local production of “The Dingdong” started slowly. That’s even considering its comparatively short runtime – we were all out of the theater in just a little over two hours, intermission included. The exposition took too long and said too little. The second half delivered more of a punch – at least three characters are boxers, by the way.
“The Dingdong” enjoyed a successful Off Broadway run in New York City, and it returns to Fayetteville, where a staged reading was presented by TheatreSquared as part of the 2015 Arkansas New Play Festival. It is likely to have legs in regional theaters for its quick wit, limited aesthetic requirements and small cast arrangement.
I hate to wholesale borrow from another publication, because each performance, much less the production, is different from night to night and place to place. But I must admit the New York Times summarized the show better than I could, saying: “For the farce to work ideally, you would have to feel real concern for the Vatelins and real alarm over the threats to their marriage. But … there’s little emotional center, and the precision of the pacing comes and goes. With all the one-liners and quick changes and frothy lingerie and funny accents, however, you might not notice.”
The show is a vehicle for actors to run around, don outrageous costumes and play with goofy accents. It’s classic theater, repackaged for shorter attention spans. I must admit – I forgot the names of many of the characters until I looked over my notes this morning. They will all stick with you about as long as they were on stage. But there are moments of riotous laughter, too.
The closing line is something they say often in France, the rallying cry “Vive la France!” Even that is presented as a double entendre. You’d have to be a real dingdong not to laugh at some of the innocent crudity of “The Dingdong.”