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Donít Dress for Dinner
By Elyse Sommer
Like One Man, Two Guvnors, Don't Dress For Dinner is set in the distant, but not too distant, past — to be exact, 1960. Instead of a gangster riddled Brighton, England setting, we now have the farcical doings of a group of upscale Parisians unfold in an elegant country house within commuting distance from Paris. While there isn't a a crook among these philanderers, there is a wily servant — in this case Suzette, a cook and server from a catering service who is quick to recognize the extra income opportunity that presents itself when she knocks on the country manor's door.
Don't Dress. . . is actually a sequel of sorts to the late Marc Camoletti's greatest hit, Boeing-Boeing. The follow-up to Boeing, adapted by Robin Hawdon, again features Boeing's Bernard, now the s lord of the exurban manor and horny as ever; also his friend Robert, now the secret lover of. . .who else but Bernard's wife Jacqueline.
Under the direction of John Tillinger, a fellow who knows his way around plays requiring a fast tempo and perfect timing, the Roundabout production is in sturdy hands. John Lee Beatty applies his usual flair for interiors that have many in the audience wishing they could have Beatty as their decorator. The high ceilinged living room includes plenty of the doors that are de riguere for a farce. There's also an armoire to add yet another hideaway. The set's rather bland monotone did have me wondering if this was intended to symbolize the need of the homeowners to pep up their comfortable but bland marriage with sexual diversion. At times, especially during the first fifteen or twenty minutes, that bland palette also seems to reflect the failure of Don't Dress for Dinner to fully achieve the non-stop lively frenzy of either Camoletti's own Boeing, Boeing or Richard Beane's One Man, Two Guvnors. That too talky opening scene does establish Bernard's (an aptly suave and horny Adam James) plan to play with his kittenish paramour Suzanne while Jacqueline is visiting her mother, and, the sure-to-misfire complications ensuing from her change of plans. It's established that Jacqueline is as duplicitous as her spouse and that Robert is going to be more than an innocent bystander in the complications to come. As the complications from the last minute change in who's going to be where, doing what, Tillinger shifts into speedier comedic momentum and the actors give free rein to the farcical aspects of their characters. In short, Don't Dress For Dinner fulfills the well done farce's requirement to dish up missed connections, misunderstandings to pile up fast and furiously with lots of nearly disastrous entrances and exits.
Adam James and Patricia Kalember bring the brittleness of Noel Coward's Amanda and Elyot to Jacqueline and Bernard, quite skillfully switching from civility into crazed comic machinations. Ben Daniels as ably captures Robert's nervous panic at being enlisted to masquerade as the lover of Bernard's squeeze, Suzanne (a delightfull, husky voiced Jennifer Tilly) without antagonizing his own squeeze, the not so prim and proper Jacqueline.
But the one who really steals the show, is Spencer Kayden as the one character whose personal life is beyond reproach. That's Suzette, the cook/server who has the bad luck to be mistaken by Robert as Bernard's similarly named mistress. This being a farce, her bad luck is actually good luck. You see, while she doesn't get to cook the dinner that brought her to this house of adulterous shenanigans she, like Richard Bean's Francis Henshall, ends up being the wily servant of two masters, namely the desperate deceivers, Bernard and Robert. She manages to turn her being drafted into being Robert's paramour into a financial bonanza.
There's a sixth character named George played by David Aron Damane who makes a late entrance. Rather than spoiling the one real surprise in the otherwise true to form funny business, I'll say no more about him than that his name is George and that as played by David Aron Damane, he is a welcome and amusing late arrival.
The second show stealer is not an actor but costume designer William Ivy Long. His waitress costume for Spencer Kayden that turns into a sexy little black dress right before our eyes is truly a comic highlight.
The audience at the performance I attended certainly enjoyed the entire play and laughed in all the right places. However anyone not smitten with old-fashioned French farces, may wish the company would allow itself to make the beautiful American Airlines Theatre less of a haven for dated productions, especially given this less than perfectly timed arrival on the heels of the catchier One Man, Two Guvnors. What's more, while Don't Dress For Dinner is Boeing, Boeing s sequel, it's not Boeing's equal.
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