Encores & Curtain Calls: ‘Duck Soup’
Ambassador Trentino: I am willing to do anything to prevent this war.
Rufus T. Firefly: It’s too late. I’ve already paid a month’s rent on the battlefield.
Alright, listen up: in an effort to foil a plan by the neighboring Sylvania to take over her own Freedonia, the wealthy Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) insists that one Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) be appointed head of state before she will part with some of her much-coveted millions. With war immanent, and while seemingly ill-equipped for the job, Firefly is duly installed, with brother Zeppo in tow as personal secretary, and both soon to be stalked by some even stranger sidemen, Pinky (Harpo Marx) and Chicolini (Chico Marx), both Sylvanian spies.
Let’s drop in on some of the early action:
Mrs. Teasdale (soberly):
I’ve taken the liberty of asking the Ambassador (of Sylvania) to come over here because we both felt that a friendly conference would settle everything peacefully. He’ll be here any moment.
Rufus T. Firefly (a la grande maniere):
“Mrs. Teasdale, you did a noble deed.
“I’d be unworthy of the high trust that’s been placed in me if I didn’t do everything within my power to keep our beloved Freedonia in peace with the world.
“I’d be only too happy to meet with Ambassador Trentino, and offer him on behalf of my country the right hand of good fellowship. And I feel sure he will accept this gesture in the spirit of which it is offered.
“(Growing uneasy) ... But suppose he doesn’t? A fine thing that’ll be! I hold out my hand and he refuses to accept it. That’ll add a lot to my prestige, won’t it? Me, the head of a country, snubbed by a foreign ambassador. Who does he think he is, that he can come here, and make a sap out of me in front of all my people?
“Think of it — I hold out my hand and that hyena refuses to accept it. Why, the cheap floor-flushing swine, he’ll never get away with it I tell you, he’ll never get away with it!
(Ambassador Trentino steps nattily through the door, immediately whereupon Firefly pelts him with a glove) So, you refuse to shake hands with me, eh?
Ambassador Trentino: “Mrs Teasdale, this is the last straw. There’s no turning back now! This means war!”
To witness not only the climactic outcome of this egregious insult, but also the preposterous madness and mayhem leading up to it, be sure to catch Pothole Pictures’ showing of the 1933 Marx Brothers classic, “Duck Soup,” Friday and Saturday, July 26 and 27, at 7:30 p.m. You can also catch a bit of live onstage entertainment, at 7 sharp both nights: Friday, Small Change plays acoustic swing; Saturday, Daniel Hales and the frost heaves play indie rock, folk and country.
Directed by comedy master Leo McCarey, “Duck Soup” has been deified as the most trenchant of political satires to emerge from Hollywood — a claim with which some critics heartily disagree and which even Groucho himself, in more venerable years, seemed to give little credence, with his (perhaps tongue in cheek) quip:
“What significance? We were just four Jews trying to get a laugh.” (Bourne, Mark (2004)
But let us leave such weighty matters as the socio-political relevance of “Duck Soup” to others.
What is certain and incontestable is that these three wise-cracking connivers — Groucho, Chico and Harpo — share a lifelong congenital karma of irreverence, disestablishmentarianism and sheer perversity for the fun of it. And it shows, big time and with big laughs, throughout the hallucinatory trajectory of “Duck Soup”: a rib-tickling mirror-scene between two Grouchos; a knock-down drag-out encounter between Harpo and Chico and a lemonade vendor; a pomp-and-circumstance performance of a never-ending national anthem — with all due risings and re-seatings — and, through it all, the incomprehending straight woman, Margaret Dumont, sustaining assault after assault from Groucho’s verbal guns, never quite knowing when she’s sustained a direct hit.
For what it’s worth, Marx Brothers aficionados have, in the 80 years since the film’s birth, relegated it primary position amidst their cinematic canon.
Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for kids under 12. Pre-purchased season tickets are also accepted.
Memorial Hall, 51 Bridge St., Shelburne Falls, is air conditioned and handicapped accessible. For information, call 413-625-2896.
Metropolitan Opera Summer Encore Series Wednesday
Then, after resting your sore ribs for a few days, consider returning to Memorial Hall for the next in its Summer Encore Series of Metropolitan Operas with Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Sivigli,”” Wednesday, July 31, at 6:30 p.m. Says the Met: “One of the most beloved operatic comedies of all time, Rossini’s ‘The Barber of Seville’ is presented in a production by director Bartlett Sher. Superstar tenor Juan Diego Flórez as Count Almaviva is joined by American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as Rosina and Peter Mattei in the title role of the swaggering barber.”
Tickets are available at the door or at Mocha Maya’s and Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls and World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield.
Double Edge stages “Shahrazad’ in Ashfield through Aug. 19
Finally, seriously contemplate a trip to Double Edge Theater for its got-to-be-special take on the famous Arabian Nights tale, “Shahrazad,” otherwise known in its Persian version as “Sheherazade,” the twelfth of the company’s summer spectacles. It will, as usual, employ poetic elements, flight, live music and the visual arts to take audiences on the journey into fantasy. Performances will take place in and out of doors, using the hills, fields, barns, woods and pond of Double Edge’s 105-acre Farm Center. Fusing myth and story with flight, pageantry and live music, the summer spectacles are suitable for all ages and attract thousands of audience members from throughout the region.
In the play, the king’s first wife was unfaithful to him and so, to prevent future betrayal, he married a new virgin every day and had his previous wife beheaded. That is, until he chanced to betroth Scheherazade, the vizier’s daughter, who had a trick or two up her sleeve.
The production was conceived and directed by founder and Artistic Director Stacy Klein and by Music Director Brian Fairley.
Performances will be through Aug. 19, at 8 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, rain or shine. Box Office, 866-811-4111; information, 628-0277. Adults, $30; students, $27.50; seniors (65 & older), $27.50; children (12 and younger), $25; Family package: $100. Family package price applies to families of four, five or six, (family members only). Group rate: $25 each for eight or more adults, $20 each for eight or more students/seniors.
An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at email@example.com.