It's easy to see why The Mint might choose to revive Jules Romains' comedy Donogoo. In its sarcastic skewering of business and ambition, it is as pertinent now as it was in the 1920s. However, in its careless sexism and racism, it is badly outdated. I imagine there might be a way to direct Donogoo that enhances its strengths and mitigates its weaknesses--or at least puts them in context. However, director Gus Kaikkonen (who also translated the play from its original French) did not find it. In fact, his direction is cheap, gimmicky, and inconsistent, and the production is mediocre at best.
Is Lamendin a passive--and lucky--naif? Is he a born salesman who accidentally finds his calling? Is he a megalomaniac-in-waiting? I suspect that he might be a bit of all three, but his moments of confidence and fear do not add up to a character or an arc.
Along the way, Lamendin meets dozens of people, many with their eyes on the main chance. They are played with various levels of humor and competence by 15 performers, some of whom deserve much better. (It's always a pleasure to see George Morfogen, and I suspect Mitch Greenberg might make a more creditable Lamendin.)
The one woman in the cast is given little to do other than be the focus of sexism. The one African-American in the cast plays a "native boy," though what an African native boy is doing in South America is not explained. (Perhaps Kaikkonen sees all people of color as interchangeable?) The "native boy" is treated as a moron by the characters and arguably by the production. Earlier, the same actor plays a bell boy and is directed to maintain a facial expression that makes him look like the sort of lawn ornament that makes most people cringe. Similarly, Paul Pontrelli as the "Indian guide" is directed to have fits of idiotic laughter that are frankly embarrassing.
Are these artifacts of the time and place of the play? Yes, but they also come across as parts of this production as directed by this director. If the show had been directed with a more consistent point of view, and with no quotation marks or distancing, the production might not seem to endorse the sexism and racism. But the direction is not consistent, and there are quotation marks and distancing, and the sexism and racism are icky. Another option might have been to play with the sexism and racism. Mix it up a bit. Cast a black man or woman in the lead. Have white people as the "natives." (White South American natives would be no more inappropriate than black South American natives!) Cast more women. Do something!
It's important that I mention that this is a Mint production. I love the Mint. They do wonderful productions of lost plays, and a trip there is always--well, nearly always--worthwhile. Also, I have admired Kaikkonen's direction in the past (Tartuffe and A Picture of Autumn), and I doubt he's actually racist and sexist.
But the show is.
In the midst of all of this, the projected backgrounds are a complete delight. From offices to jungles, Roger Hanna and Price Johnston provide eye-pleasing, evocative, entertaining, and witty visuals. I would almost recommend this production just to see the projections. Almost.
(press ticket; row E on the aisle)