CRT Does Well With French Farce

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Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

By Karen Isaacs

 Titling a play An Absolute Turkey is an act of faith. Anyone can see that critics could have a field day if the production isn’t good.  But this play, an English adaptation of a Georges Feydeau farce is very good. Plus the Connecticut Repertory Theater on the UConn campus in Storrs is giving it a good production.

This adaptation of Le Dindon is be Nicki Frei and famed British director Peter Hall. It won acclaim and prizes when it was performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1993.

As in typical French farce fashion there are misunderstandings, sexual innuendo and doors which lead to near collisions.  The British version of farce is even more frantic; Noises Off is one of the best examples of that type.

The play is set in the late 1800s during what is called “La Belle Epoque.” It involves upper middle class people and infidelity or the appearance of it plays a major role.

The play opens with Lucienne coming home, followed by Pontagnac who forces his way into the home and declares his love; he has been following her. Lucienne rejects his advances as she is happily married, but does announce that if she ever learned her husband, a lawyer, was unfaithful, she would immediately get revenge by following suit. When her husband, Vatelin, comes home, she is amazed to find that he and Pontagnac are old friends.  As they talk, we learn that Pontagnac has been using visits to their home (there have been none) as his alibi with his wife, who he claims is in the country and ill. Of course, Madame Pontagnac soon appears. When alone the two wife agree on the idea of immediate revenge for infidelity. Before act 1 ends, we have met Redillion another “man about town” who knows Lucienne, plus a “client” of Vatelin’s. Mitzi is a married woman he met while on business in Zurich; she is now Paris and blackmails him into a rendezvous that evening or she will tell her husband, his true client. Even her husband shows up having found evidence of the meeting that evening though not knowing Vatelin is the lover. He plans to “discover” them.

We move to a hotel where in Act 2 there are various mix-ups, but as in most farces, no real sexual activity takes place. A mix up in the rooms occur so innocent strangers are caught up in the confusion, attempts to allow Lucienne to catch her husband lead to other mix ups, and a search for a missing valise adds to the near misses between characters.

The play concludes in Act 3 in Redillon’s apartment where all gets straightened out and the spouses forgive each other. Vatelin explains his dalliance with Mitzi as a one-time thing caused by his loneliness when he was in Zurich for a month. Lucienne accepts his explanation and forgives him.

The CRT production features an excellent set by Abigail Copeland and costumes by Heather Lesieur. The set – it changes in a choreographed manner between each act – looks elegant and appropriate for these upper middle class people. In Act one a series of empty picture frames fill the backdrop and the living room is nicely appointed. The three doors are adjusted in the conversion to the hotel room of act two and adjusted again for Redillon’s more luxurious feeling apartment.

The costumes again seem elegant and luxurious.

Director Paul Mullins has done a fine job with a cast that is dominated by students in the MFA drama program at UConn. They are joined by two professional (Equity) performers: Brooks Brantly as Redillon and John Leonard Thompson as his butler. Both are excellent. Thompson is very funny in this almost cameo role, maintaining a deadpan expression as characters keep showing up at Redillon’s apartment.

Overall, the men in the cast surpassed the women with one exception.  Arlene Bozich was very funny as Mitzi; a stereotypical Swiss “maid” with dirndl, blonde hair and braids. She is enthusiastic and determined to a fault.

I found Bruce Wood as Pontagnac, Brantly as Redillon and Curtis Longfellow as Mitzi’s husband all to be outstanding. They created real people while also mining the humor of these stereotype characters. In a smaller role, Michael Bobenhausen does a fine job as the smiling, obsequious hotel manager who has to cope with all the confusions and commotion.

This was my first time seeing this play and I enjoyed it as did the audience. Overall it is worth a trip to Storrs.

An Absolute Turkey is at the Jorgensen Theater at UConn through Dec. 10. For tickets visitCRT or call 860-486-2113.

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