Theater Review: ‘Donogoo: A Comedy’

Hilarity and meaning

NEW YORK—Directed and translated by Gus Kaikkonen from the original French by noted writer Jules Romains, “Donogoo” relates a tale of adventure—and greed.

Set in 1920s Paris, and later, Brazil, the content might well be taken from today’s headlines.

When architect Lamendin (James Riordan), down on his luck, runs into an old friend, Benin (Mitch Greenberg), the latter sends Lamendin on an errand that may turn the tides of his fortune and come to affect hundreds, if not thousands, of others.

The errand is to meet with an elderly professor of geography, Le Trouhadec (George Morfogen). Trouhadec wants nothing more than to be elected to the Academy of Sciences. However, that outcome seems unlikely. For when he had claimed the existence of a town in Brazil called Donogoo, which several of his colleagues claimed did not exist, Trouhadec had fallen out of favor with his peers.

Undaunted and even inspired, Lamendin offers to find Donogoo and right the injustice paid to Trouhadec. Thus begins a series of incredible adventures.

After much effort, Lamendin convinces the banker Margajat (Ross Bickell) to raise a large sum of money to finance the project. The enticing pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is just that: It is thought that gold is to be found in Donogoo, or Donogoo-Tonka, as it comes to be called.

With rumors flying, adventurers are found who are willing to undertake the venture. It is not a simple task. The scene shifts to a jungle in Brazil where the group hasn’t much food. Furthermore, instead of finding a settlement or any buildings at all, they find only overgrown jungle.

However, business is booming. A travel agency books tickets, even selling out. When the agent is asked how long Donogoo has been in existence, she replies, “I’m a travel agent, not a historian.”

More wannabe settlers arrive, some with the aid of the Indian Guide (serio-comically played by Paul Pontrelli). Ultimately, some of the settlers become cynical and doubt the existence of the place called Donogoo.

Before things can boil over, Lamendin himself arrives with a group of armed men. He will settle any problems, by force if necessary.

The play, listed in the program as “A Comedy in 23 Tableaux,” illustrates human nature in all its foibles: how the thought of enormous, sudden wealth can turn normally rational people into fools; how others see the possibility of profit from the foolhardiness of others. Does this possibly smack of a fairly recent Ponzi scheme?

Director Gus Kaikkonen’s crisp, tableau concept is perfect for this material. He is materially aided by the remarkable back projections, which occasionally suggest a moving train, by set designer Roger Hanna and Price Johnston, the latter also doing lighting. Hanna’s swiftly moving platforms insure rapid scene changes, a necessary boon for this type of production. Sam Fleming’s period costumes are right on the mark.

The beautifully selected cast of 13 is terrific. Those not mentioned thus far are Scott Thomas, Vladimir Versailles, Dave Quay, Jay Patterson, Kraig Swartz, Brian Thomas Vaughan, Douglas Rees, and playing all seven female roles is the very effective Megan Robinson.

Donogoo: A Comedy
Mint Theater Company
311 West 43rd Street
Tickets: 866-811-4111 or visit minttheater.org
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Closes: July 27

Diana Barth publishes New Millennium, an arts publication. For information: diabarth@juno.com

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