Rainn Wilson Delights in Steppenwolf's Quip-Filled 'The Doppelganger'

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), April 20, 2018 | Go to article overview

Rainn Wilson Delights in Steppenwolf's Quip-Filled 'The Doppelganger'


Byline: Barbara Vitello bvitello@dailyherald.com

Rainn Wilson delights in Steppenwolf's quip-filled 'The Doppelganger'

"The Doppelgnger (an international farce)" -- ? ? ?

For playwright Matthew-Lee Erlbach, farce is the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.

The medicine, he explains in a Steppenwolf Theatre video, is righteous outrage over indigenous people in impoverished yet mineral-rich nations exploited by capitalists-without-conscience. Erlbach administers a generous dose in his nearly great comedy "The Doppelgnger (an international farce)," premiering at Chicago's Steppenwolf.

Directed by ensemble member Tina Landau and starring the superb Rainn Wilson, "The Doppelgnger" is an acerbic sociopolitical satire wrapped inside a silly sex farce or, as Erlbach describes it, a pig in a blanket.

Quick-paced and quip-filled, the play incorporates mistaken identity, outrageous situations and slapstick comedy, which Erlbach pairs with a stinging critique of government officials and corporate leaders who profit from the labor of the disenfranchised and dispossessed. Erlbach exploits farce conventions and social criticism so thoroughly that "The Doppelgnger" loops back around to tragedy, made explicit in the play's shocking final moment.

The time is the present. The place is a French colonial mansion in Bangui, the war-torn capital of the Central African Republic. It's the home of Thomas Irdley (Wilson, best known for playing Dwight Schrute on NBC's "The Office"), a British would be robber-baron, and his wife, Theresa (Sandra Marquez).

Eager to re-open his copper mine presumably shuttered during a pesky civil war, Thomas has invited potential partners to his estate for the weekend. Housekeeper and workers' rights activist Rosie (an impassioned Celeste M. Cooper) sees the mini-summit as an opportunity to ensure fair treatment for her fellow Central African Republic natives. Although Thomas is disinclined, she urges him to use his position to secure jobs and living wages for local mineworkers.

Unfortunately, Thomas mistakes zebra tranquilizer for his blood pressure meds and passes out before his guests arrive. Fortunately, Jimmy (the titular doppelgnger played by Wilson with "aw shucks" geniality), a vacationing Kindergarten teacher from Quincy, Illinois and a dead ringer for Thomas, shows up.

"Help me fix what is broken," pleads Rosie, who persuades do-gooder Jimmy to stand in for the disposed mogul and advance her efforts on behalf of workers.

Soon after, a rogues' gallery of greedy moneymen and women, self-interested diplomats and disgraced politicos arrive. There's British official Beatrix Geddes-Renwick (a droll Audrey Francis); American Gen. …

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