Mistaken identities, mischievous misalliances, misplaced luggage and really bad timing -- these are some of the essential ingredients of farce. Oh, and don't forget doors, lots of doors. Gremlin Theatre's "An Absolute Turkey," which opened this past weekend, is all about the doors.
Carl Shoenborn's lovely scenic design features three of them, set into walls of pleated cloth that conjure the elegant drawing rooms and bedrooms of this delicious comic romp. A dozen actors pop in and out of them in various stages of undress as this story about philandering husbands and scheming wives unfolds in a whirlwind of twists and turns.
Adapted by Nicki Frei and Sir Peter Hall from Georges Feydeau's classic "Le Dindon," "An Absolute Turkey" is an ambitious undertaking for Gremlin, and, despite a few opening night wobbles, they meet the challenge successfully. Sara Richardson brings her signature physicality to the role of Lucienne, the wife who's almost eager to catch her husband in an infidelity that would justify her own little fling. Whether she's flitting in and out of doors, tangling on the floor with her would-be lover or swooning with aplomb, Richardson's ironically mannered style sets the tone for this production.
She's ably matched by Ryan Lindberg in an arch performance as the incorrigible philanderer Pontagnac. Indeed, there's not a weak performance in director Brian Balcom's fine ensemble. Particular standouts include Peter Simmons in hilarious dual roles as a randy husband and an aged servant and Peter Ooley, who's all bluster and stentorian tones as another husband on the trail of a straying wife. Katherine Moeller provides a lively performance as yet another wandering wife, while Joe Bombard is suitably vacuous as Lucienne's hapless husband, Vatelin. Matt Cerar offers a nice cameo as a hormonal teenaged bellboy and provides a wonderfully campy lip-synched song-and-dance performance as cover for a scene change.
Farce is essentially the triumph of style over substance and Balcom brings plenty of style. "An Absolute Turkey" proceeds at the breakneck pace needed to keep its house-of-cards plot from collapsing, with clever timing that keeps the comedy frothy. Schoenborn's elegant set pieces, Montana Jonson's sprightly sound design and A. Emily Heaney's inventive costumes humorously evoke the Belle Epoque roots of Feydeau's work and gives this production a timeless feel.
The charm of Feydeau's farce is in its frivolity, from a convoluted and utterly improbable plot to irrepressible, completely shallow characters and their foibles. Gremlin's "Absolute Turkey" ably captures that necessary evanescence in a production as sharp as a slammed door.
Lisa Brock writes about theater.