“Le Dindon”: Proof the French are Funny
Erin Thomassen | Sunday, January 19, 2014
This weekend, Notre Dame students and faculty explored both their funny and French sides in the student production of Georges Feydeau’s 1896 farce, “Le Dindon.” The comedy sold out on Friday, partially because the show took place in the Debartolo Performing Arts Center’s black-box theatre with limited seating, but also because a university with a French name is bound to attract Francophiles.
Some audience members were clearly French faculty members, since they conversed in French throughout intermission and laughed at the subtle jokes that only advanced francophones would understand. Others, however, who had little to no French knowledge, could still appreciate the play thanks to summaries provided in the program and physical comedy that traversed language barriers.
From the first scene, it was clear that the actors had an advanced knowledge of the French language. The married couple of Lucienne and Vatelin, played by Annalise Burnett and Jeremy Dela Cruz, could pass as native French speakers. Ernest Rédillon, played by Garrett Blad, also delivered his lines with a convincing French accent. Even the ushers spoke French; when audience members thanked them for giving them programs, they replied with “de rien” (you’re welcome).
Some of the most comedic scenes, though, were those in which the actors did not convey their lines with perfect Parisian flair. Grace Pettey and Michael Vaclav, whose characters grew up in Britain and were supposed to have appalling French accents, won the largest laughs from the audience.
Both actors butchered the French language splendidly, pronouncing the “s” when it should be silent and opening their mouths wide when they should be puckered. When the play is performed in France, audience members can find humor in its mocking of foreigners. Since most of the audience members at Notre Dame spoke French as a second language, they found the characters’ bumbles even funnier because they could relate to them.
Other merry moments included Pontagnac, Lucienne’s bumbling suitor played by Christopher Hebig. Costume designer Melissa Bialko cleverly cut Pontagnac’s pants too short, which made his legs appear lanky and contributed to his awkward aura. When Lucienne demanded to know if Pontagnac was married, he guiltily replied “un peu,” or “a little,” eliciting chuckles from the audience. When Rédillon, Lucienne’s other suitor, is left alone with Pontagnac, the two engage in a comically intense humming competition.
In the last scene, when Lucienne is desperate to find a lover to get back at her husband, she resorts to Pontagnac. However, she is only using him to make her husband jealous, so she attempts to ignore him until her husband arrives to witness her adultery. Poor Pontagnac tries to get her attention by seductively crawling on the floor, but he only makes her and the audience laugh. Since Hebig was fully committed to his character, his attempts at physical and spoken comedy were wildly successful.
Since the main characters were on stage for the majority of the two-and-a-half-hour long play, they had an overwhelming amount of lines to memorize, resulting in moments every so often when actors would forget their lines and stand in silence.
The students never broke character, though, and were not fazed by missed lines or entrances. Instead, they improvised their way into the next section of the play. This created a sense of camaraderie between the audience and the actors; when the actors faced a glitch, the audience rooted for them to succeed.
And succeed they did. Even if they missed a few lines here and there, they successfully conveyed a story that entertained and educated the audience. Maybe it did not go as smoothly as planned, but what is live theatre without a few unexpected bumps? The students did a formidable job with a funny French play, earning their audience’s admiration and applause.