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French playwright Marc Camoletti wrote a number of scripts about the triumvirate of Bernard, Robert, and Jacqueline, but they’re not exactly sequels; the events of one had little bearing on the others. His method is reminiscent of commedia dell’arte, in which a collection of broadly drawn stock characters is thrown together in different combinations and scenarios with no expectation of continuity. Thus, in its second Camoletti production in as many seasons, Meadow Brook Theatre’s North American premiere of Ding Dong (translation by Tudor Gates; directed by Travis W. Walter) shows its audience familiar faces, but brand-new farce.

Mischief makers Bernard and Robert (Christopher Howe and Steve Blackwood, respectively, reprising their roles from last season’s Boeing-Boeing), old friends when last we left them, meet here for the first time. The former has lured the latter under false pretenses to his distinctly ‘70s Paris home — all upscale trendy eggplant and burnt orange and mustard elements over gray, tied in rather elegantly by designer Brian Kessler — to reveal he knows all about the affair with Bernard’s wife, Jacqueline (also reprised by Julianne Somers). Because cuckolding is a deep enough injury that reparations are in order, Robert is presented with two options: violent death, or allowing Bernard to seduce his own wife and vengefully complete the switcheroo. They arrange a dinner party to begin the seduction, but Robert brings a slutty imposter (Janet Caine) to pose as his spouse, setting off a series of he-knows-that-I-know-that-you-know maneuvers that are only intensified when actual wife Juliette (MaryJo Cuppone) shows up at the door. With every action in service of a singular goal, the many moving parts of this lightning-fast comedy are well served by an undercurrent of simplicity, its two-act structure akin to pulling back on a slingshot and then letting go.

Howe’s Bernard is dapper and wry, panicky but functional under pressure, although anyone would appear icy cool in contrast to Blackwood’s heightened, hilarious repetition and uncontrollable ineptitude. Jacqueline is given less to do than the two men, but Somers capitalizes on the opportunities provided her by the close-proximity awkwardness of her husband and lover commingling. Of course, Bernard wouldn’t be Bernard without the help of a hammy, taken-for-granted housekeeper, and here Ruth Crawford gives her vain Marie-Louise a defiantly oblivious streak that proves an interesting counterpoint to the plotting, ever-maneuvering characters she serves. Cuppone gives a fun and wicked turn as the wife who wholeheartedly trusts her husband's perfect fidelity until the moment she doesn't. However, the gem of the production is Caine’s cheap, lascivious Barbara, the vaguely Russian-accented professional whose unsinkable willingness to give her target a freebie earns the biggest laughs of the show.

Costume designer Liz Moore deserves kudos, not only for the impeccably styled tackiness of the various ensembles, but for the subtler color coordination of the women’s dresses with their environment — a minute but not-overlooked callback to the prior show. Most of the production elements, including Kessler’s set, feel like throwbacks to prior choices now upgraded from The ‘60s to The ‘70s. Sound design by Mike Duncan returns to the French-language pop well, this time with disco favorites woven in; Reid G. Johnson’s lighting does a service to the warm, tasteful surroundings, but also indulges in a playful clubby side.

With the same production team and much of the same cast as its predecessor, Ding Dong purposefully imparts a serial feel for repeat viewers. Although the premise and plot differ in crucial ways, most notably that everyone here is in on the scheme to some extent, the approach touches on many of the same beats, down to its flamboyant curtain call. Ultimately, there’s a reason why Boeing-Boeing is the better-known script — in Camoletti’s farcical world, trying to make things happen isn’t as funny as trying to prevent them from happening — but this Ding Dong is dually satisfying for its recurring characters and for a story that stands alone. Viewers who didn’t attend last year’s wildly successful show will get a sense of what they missed, and returning patrons can revisit the themes and retro chic of the original in a tale that’s more than a mere retread.


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