June 24, 2014

Psst! Wanna buy some collateralized debt obligations? How about a nice credit default swap? Wait! I’ve got just the thing: shares in a plan to exploit the gold reserves of Donogoo-Tonka, that lush South American Eden.

In “Donogoo,” a 1930 French farce by Jules Romains, revived by Mint Theater Company, Lamendin (James Riordan), a down-on-his-luck Parisian, concocts a plan to attract investors to those fabled plains. You could call Lamendin’s plot a pyramid scheme, but Donogoo doesn’t boast a single pyramid. As one shrewd adventurer asks, “Does the place exist?”

“That depends,” Lamendin replies, “on what you mean by ‘exist.'”

Donogoo, it transpires, is the mistake of a geographer, Le Trouhadec (George Morfogen), a pompous sort who won’t acknowledge the error in his mapmaking. Lamendin has sworn loyalty to Le Trouhadec, so he resolves to make the error right. And to make some money, too. If he can attract enough interest in Donogoo, he believes that he can somehow will the place into existence.

Gus Kaikkonen, who also directed Romains’s satire of modern medicine, “Doctor Knock,” offers a new translation of the comedy and presides over a cast of 13, who play 50-odd roles. He moves his actors on and off the stage deftly; cheerfully garish projections by Roger Hanna and Price Johnston allow rapid changes of scene. But the script takes too long to get going and doesn’t pay sufficient dividends. Instead of reaching a comic apex, the busy plot keeps plateauing.

More troublingly, there’s an air of paternalism that clings to the piece and which Mr. Kaikkonen’s direction doesn’t sufficiently alleviate. Perhaps jokes about lynching Indian guides or sexually abusing a young native woman were the peak of hilarity in 1930. Not so much today.

Romains’s targets are many: academia, psychiatry, environmental exploitation, big business. But only occasionally do his barbs still hit, as in the increasingly absurd suggestions about how to market the land to gullible investors. “Get Chanel to design a gown totally in lamé — the Donogoo-Tonka look,” one man proposes. “And a perfume: Nights in Donogoo,” another suggests.

The script’s echoes of recent financial crises are resonant and chilling, and are most likely what attracted Mr. Kaikkonen and Mint’s producing artistic director, Jonathan Bank. When Lamendin arrives at a large bank with his ludicrous prospectus, the chief financier dismisses him, but not before offering some encouragement. The banker says heartily, “We’ve made much bigger deals with much less information.”