Bienvenue and welcome to Thremol Street in Paris, where every lover is loyal, and the definition of loyalty is: “One husband, one lover, full stop.” UR International Theater Program’s latest production, “An Absolute Turkey,” is a classic French farce by the master of farce himself, Georges Feydeau. But URITP has given it a lively update with a 1970s aesthetic. So we should know what to expect: canoodling couples, slamming doors, confused identities and some fabulous silver go-go boots.
Directed by URITP’s Artistic Director Nigel Maister, along with assistant director and junior Melissa Martin, “Turkey” is a perpetual explosion of color, light, sound and laughs. The costume design by Kimberly Glennon is meticulous and gorgeous, and the lighting and sound design by Aaron Black and Obadiah Eaves, respectively, are glamorous, sharp and sleek.
Maister knows his audience well. I can think of few things more treasured to a college-age crowd than sexual scandals, a tasteful amount of bare skin and unexpected dance numbers. The production impressively keeps an air of frolicking fun without sacrificing its taste.
The play begins with a chase. Appropriate, if it were the beginning of an innocent courtship. We soon discover, however, that the pursuer, as well as the pursued, are both married. Pontagnac (KEY scholar Andrew Polec III) chases Lucienne (junior Giulia Perucchio) through the streets of Paris into her house, where Pontagnac discovers that Lucienne is married to his good friend, Vatelin (freshman Devin Goodman). Polec is his usual tirelessly energetic self, while Goodman brings a dweeby but loveable touch to his character.
The play’s moral code is not the only thing skewed — walk into the theater and you’ll see a lopsided, double-raked stage. The stage functions as a chalkboard for the actors to denote locations and sounds. They are able to create doors to exit through and closets to hide in. Just like the love lives of the characters, the space is constantly transforming — dozing off isn’t an option.
The eligible bachelor Ernest Redillon is played with admirable fervor by freshman Charles Lehner, who works comically against his age with droves of women spreading their legs at his feet. These droves include Clotilde Pontagnac (freshman Kathryn Loveless), and “lady of the night” Armandine (senior Leah Barish). Loveless brings tenacious sass to what could have turned into just another supporting role, and Barish’s sauce and languor stand out in a play that is already filled with raunchy characters.
Although the entire cast is solid and humorous, the soul of the show resides in Perucchio, Polec and senior Stella Kammel, who plays Vatelin’s bombastic Swiss lover, Mitzi. The pleasure and turmoil through which Kammel guides her stormy performance are sold with such absurd conviction that keeping a straight face is a formidable challenge.
Did I mention the giant, rug-framed projection screen? A slideshow runs pictures that parallel the show on stage, the wacky images complimenting the live action. Most of the pictures are paintings from Feydeau’s era that have been crudely photoshopped.
One of my personal favorites was a Lautrec painting of a woman on a chaise next to a suggestively placed Trojan wrapper. Though slightly distracting at first, the projections grew on me and, by the end, they even clarified the chaos on stage by associating characters with pictures that stereotyped them to an identifiable image.
To add to the quirkily transparent quality of the show, it was run entirely with a foley board. A foley board is an apparatus constructed of simple machines built to imitate the sounds of everyday life — an opening door, a cup of coffee being poured, etc. There are even moments when the actors silence the foley artists so they can enter a room without being detected. A good deal of laughs are indebted to the foley artists, props master Carlotta Gambato and her numerous props assistants and interns.
In one moment in the third act, Lucienne is teetering on the edge of a high-stakes decision — her lip quivers, her doe-eyes widen, and she could surely burst into tears in a second. This is one instance of why “Turkey” is so successful. For the characters in the play, their lives are a topsy-turvy tragedy, but for us watching it is an uproarious comedy. If the actors played for laughs, acknowledging their own humorous behavior, the audience would be substantially less amused.
Last, but not least, I would like to give serious props to the ladies donning heels during the show. Acting is one thing, walking in heels is another, but acting and walking in heels on a raked stage? I’m floored. That being said, since the audience is already being entertained by private calamities on stage, a coordinated fall or two would have been absolutely hilarious.
“An Absolute Turkey” will be running until Saturday, Oct. 22.
Burritt is a member of the class of 2013.