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Going to Pot

at Adams House tonight and tomorrow at 8:20 p.m.

By Dwight Cramer

JOE TIMKO has directed a turn-of-the-century French farce and written a modern red herring, and the Adams House Drama Society has seen fit to present the two together and call the result an evening of surreal theatre. Timko's red herring. "The Best Picture," ascribed to a Russian named Kopchyonaya Sel'dy, or Bloated Smelt, comes close to being theatre of the absurd, surreal theatre or whatever. But it really only diverts attention from the major part of the night's production. Georges Feydeau's farce, "Going to Pot."

"Going to Pot" is an intricately contrived comedy in which everything finally ties together. An aspiring contractor for the French war department (he wants to supply every solider with a chamber pot) falls victim to a series of disasters that are all more-or-less the result of his young son's constipation. Follavoine, the contractor, is blessed with a wife. Julie, totally preoccupied with curing her son's problem with a dose of mineral oil, which the boy refuses to take. She manages, with her son's help, to destroy Follavoine's business with M. Chouilloux, the war ministry representative who comes to lunch. Looked at in a serious light, the plot alternates between the ridiculous and the grotesque. But by using small incidents as levers to move emotions. Feydeau manages to make the whole thing hang together and progress coherently. It possesses a certain illogical consistency even if it is not altogether plausible.

What it comes down to is how entertaining an Adams House production of Feydeau can be. Feydeau did not exactly conduct an in depth study of the human condition but he is generally acknowledged a formidable writer of popular comedy. Which is what "Going to Pot" is, a frenzied and desperate popular comedy.

SOMETIMES IT GETS a little too frenzied and desperate. The Upper Common Room in Adams House is not a particularly big place, and it is easy to over-whelm the audience by overplaying a role. "Going to Pot" suffers a bit from a tendency in that direction. Lyle Shaw, as Follavoine, occasionally gets carried away while demonstrating his emotions, and has a little trouble maintaining a consistent portrayal of a chamber pot magnate. As his wife Julie, Wendy Walker manages a couple of very good moments as she waxes lyrical in several bathetic incidents. But almost unpardonably she begins giggling at some of her own lines. M. Chouilloux, played by Mark Mosca, is a very consistent, very careful, occasionally startled, war office bureaucrat, outlandishly dressed but with a quiet demeanour.

The bit parts do a good deal toward livening up the whole performance. John Liller does quite adequate service as the slightly malicious Baby, the ostensible precipitant of all the madness. He is able to neatly upstage the rest of the cast in a couple of their less inspired confrontations just by sitting on a sofa eating mints. Fran Schuman breezed in as an utterly outrageous Madame Chouilloux. In a brief appearance she sustained a totally incredible pose, and had she spent any great amount of time on stage her manner would quickly have become overbearing. But for the moment it was appropriate. Joe Timko diametrically opposed her overblown entrance with his own underplayed behavior in the role of Truchet, her lover and "cousin."

Georges Feydeau was a French comic playwright before the First World War. His work was originally written for the popular stage but in the 1940s he began to acquire cultural respectability, and several of his plays have been added to the repetoire of the Comedie--Francaise. Wesleyan Professor Norman Shapiro, who lives in Cambridge and is an associate of Adams House, translated a set of Feydeau farces into English, one of which was "Going to Pot." Shapiro has helped out with this production.

The play is an unpretentious amusement. By its conclusion disaster has come to Follavoine, but it is an almost incidental disaster. He must meet Truchet on the field of honor, which is silly enough in itself, and he will not win the contract to manufacture chamber pots for the army. Excluded from the military-industrial complex, and challenged to a duel, he storms out, after having accidentally swallowed his son's purge. It is all rather ridiculous, and it occasionally has its points, but why it is called surrealistic is never clear. Perhaps the attempt to reconcile murder, constipation, and hysteria with the Adams House Upper Common Room is intrinsically so bizarre that it automatically becomes surreal.

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