You know when you see a stage set with multiple doors that the play will likely be a farce. Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s set of ‘Doppelgänger,’ a world premiere with the sub title of ‘an international farce,’ has all the elements needed to keep audiences laughing, including 11 doors and another entrance.
Erlbach’s presentation of global political, economic and social issues of today works superbly well as a farce.
Clever lines come so quickly and author Matthew-Lee Erlbach’s obvious love of words so mesh in rhymes and tongue twisters that the first two hours speed by quickly.
No stereotype is spared from a hawkish general and a skinny, uptight female British politician to an exiled African nation’s former brutal president, a bisexual Arab prince and a buxom, Brazilian money launderer.
Thrown into the mix is a millennial Chinese inventor who needs cheap copper and the host, a British businessman/copper mine owner who invites all of them to his colonial estate in Bangui to make a deal. Plus, his wife who is not around for most of the action, will not know there is a doppelganger in the house.
Orchestrating what turns into chaos is an African native maid who wants better working conditions for her people and an unsophisticated, American male kindergarten teacher she enlists to help her because he is a double for the mine owner.
The plot moves delightfully through the first act as the doppelganger sarcastically encourages the potential deal makers to destroy Africa in their quest for power and wealth. Act II nicely unveils some of the characters’ real motivations with unanticipated consequences.
I was ready to highly recommend the play after two witty, hilarious hours. But the show is two hours, 25 minutes.
What happens near the end is that two of the characters kill each other. (No spoil alert is needed because you won’t know until the end who they are). The killing changes the rhythm and complexion of the farce turning the play into a comedy noire and pulls away some of the empathy that has been building for a few of the characters.
A last minute, play-ending event, almost compensates for the killing, but not quite.
If it had been Shakespearean, more characters would have killed each other or have changed identities. In this play, it was just one character who wasn’t what was claimed.
However, there is a lot to love in ‘The Doppelgänger.’
Directed by Steppenwolf ensemble member Tina Landau, the cast is terrific.
Rainn Wilson is exceptional as mine owner Thomas Irdley and his doppelanger Jimmy Peterson. There are several memorable moments including a “Who’s on First” style routine. But one that stands out is Irdley wrestling with Peterson on the floor behind a couch that has each head alternately appearing above the furniture.
Celeste M. Cooper’s performance as the adept plotter/maid Rosie Guerekoyame is priceless. Ora Jones as Lolade Masarogba nicely counters her husband, Michel Masarogba, interpreted with appropriate bullying and blustering by James Vincent Meredith.
Audrey Francis tries to keep a stiff upper lip through all the maneuvering as she envisions a new colonial period for Britain as politician Beatrix Geddes-Renwick. Karen Rodriguez portrays the sexy, willing and able “money launderer Marina.
Andy Nagraj and Whit K. Lee are ridiculously funny (respectively) as Prince Amir Abdullah and Wen Xiaoping.
Also excellent are Sandra Marquez as wife Theresa Irdley, Michael Accardo as General Stanley Harcourt and Dan Plehal as Beau D’oublé.
Todd Rosenthal’s set design and Clint Ramos’ costumes truly give the play a sense of place and character.
DETAILS: ‘The Doppelgänger (An International Farce), is at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted St., Chicago, now through May 27, 2018. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 335-1650 and visit Steppenwolf.
Note: The role of Thomas Irdley/Jimmy Peterson will be played by Eric Slater, instead of Rainn Wilson April 22, 7:30 p.m.; April 24, 7:30 .pm.; May 6, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; May 20, 3 p.m.and May 22, 7:30 p.m.
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