In today’s political climate, the phrase “an international farce” could describe many events covered in the 24-hour news cycle. As the tagline for Steppenwolf’s world-premiere play, The Doppelganger, the term takes on myriad meanings, as a descriptor of plot, character, and theme. For audiences drawn to the phrase “international,” the country each character hails from, as well as their political and personal interests, are nothing short of geographically diverse. The setting of the play--the Central African Republic--also fits the bill. For audiences drawn to the play’s advertisement as “farce” the nomenclature will surely ring true. A story in which a kindergarten teacher from Illinois named Jimmy (Rainn Wilson of television’s The Office) becomes embroiled in geopolitical machinations due to his resemblance to the owner of a vast copper mine is ripe for comedy.
Doppelganger A Play Bursting With Comedy
Regardless of your subjective views on comedy, The Doppelganger is sure to offer you something to find funny. That is because playwright Matthew-Lee Erlbach has crafted a play littered with genre tropes and witticisms spanning a broad spectrum of comedy. Pratfalls, slapstick, slamming doors, mistaken identities, innuendoes, and jokes that almost hit too-close-to-home all buoy The Doppelganger’s farcical classification. And that’s to say nothing of Erlbach’s witty and whimsical use of language, which adds wordplay, elaborate rhyme schemes, and hyper-specificity to the comedic cocktail. Joyfully, the play undulates between low-brow jokes and high-brow insights, kept in dizzying motion by director and Steppenwolf ensemble member Tina Landau.
Ensemble Cast Showcases Steppenwolf’s Style
While many audiences will be interested in seeing The Office’s Dwight Schrute grace a stage such as Steppenwolf’s, there is more to this cast than Rainn Wilson. That’s not to say that Wilson is not worth the price of admission, but rather that, even barring his excellently funny turn as both Thomas Irdley and Jimmy Peterson (the staging is a riot), the rest of the cast delivers in true Steppenwolf form. Featuring an impressive turn by Celeste M. Cooper as Rosie, Mr. Irdley’s maid and head of house, as well as contributions from ensemble members Audrey Francis, Ora Jones, Sandra Marquez and James Vincent Meredith, the play’s characters are rendered with a mixture of caricature and sincerity that complements Erlbach’s script well. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Michael Accardo, Whit K. Lee, Andy Nagraj and Karen Rodriguez, who add to the play’s growing zaniness with each entrance.
Substance At Its Heart
As hectic and hilarious as the play gets, The Doppelganger still has substance at its core. Deftly handled by Landau in a quick and unexpected reversal too potent to want to spoil, audiences may shift uncomfortably in their seats as they recognize the gravity behind what they have spent the evening laughing at. While some may feel that such a twist betrays the play’s genre, to this reviewer, it served as a testament to the mutability of genre in the theatre and the visceral potential all art possesses.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Through June 2nd
Tuesdays thru Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 3pm or 8:00pm
Sundays at 3pm or 7:30pm
Casting note: The role of Thomas/Jimmy will be played by Eric Slater, in place of Rainn Wilson, for the following performances: April 22, 7:30pm; April 24, 7:30pm; May 6, 3pm and 7:30pm; May 20, 3pm; May 22, 7:30pm.
1650 N Halsted St.
Celeste M. Cooper
James Vincent Meredith
Whit K. Lee
Single tickets ($20-$114) are available through Audience Services (1650 N Halsted St), by calling the Box Office at 312-335-1650, or from the Steppenwolf theatre website.
Written by Matthew-Lee Erlbach
Directed by ensemble member Tina Landau
Scenic Design by Todd Rosenthal
Costume Design by Clint Ramos
Lighting Design by Scott Zielinski
Sound Design and Original Music by Michael Bodeen
Sound Design and Original Music by Rob Milburn
Stage Manager - Malcolm Ewen
Assistant Stage Manager - Christine D. Freeburg
Casting Director - JC Clementz
Company Vocal Coach - Gigi Buffington
Artistic Producer - Jonathan Berry
Physical Comedy Consultant - Jeff Jenkins
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago
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