If you are looking for a crowd pleaser to open your theatre’s season, a fine farce like Don’t Dress for Dinner is an excellent choice. 1st Stage launches its new year with an enjoyable production of a famous French classic work from the late Marc Camoletti, best known as the author of the recent successful Broadway revival Boeing-Boeing.
Don’t Dress for Dinner is a companion piece to Boeing-Boeing, featuring the same leading characters of Bernard (Evan Crump), his wife Jacqueline (Katie Nigsch-Fairfax), and their best friend Robert (Joshua Dick). As the play begins, Bernard is attempting to rush Jacqueline off to her mother’s for a weekend so he can enjoy a tryst with his hot model girlfriend Susanne (Jessica Shearer Wilson). Unfortunately, Jacqueline cancels her plans at the last minute when she learns that Bernard also invited Robert, Jacqueline’s secret lover.
Camoletti further piles on the complications by having Bernard persuade a reluctant Robert to pretend to be Suzanne’s girlfriend, making Jacqueline furiously jealous. Yet because Robert has never met Susanne (a/k/a Suzy), he mistakenly introduces the mercenary catering chef Suzette (also nicknamed, you guessed it, Suzy) as his girlfriend. For different purposes and to different people, Suzy #2 also masquerades as Bernard’s lover and Robert’s niece, in addition to being the wife of the muscular and threatening George (Gil Hasty).
Camoletti weaves an intricate web of mistaken identities, secret revelations, and comedic twists and turns, all of the things which make a farce memorable. It’s a wonderfully complicated and tasty stew that he prepares.
Laying the groundwork for such a complicated piece does require a substantial bit of background exposition. Although the playwright is reasonably facile in introducing the story, the first twenty minutes or so of the play do lag as the three main characters have trouble inducing many laughs from the setup material.
Once the characters and complications start piling on, the play does pick up comedic momentum and the actors start fully giving themselves over to the farcical sides of their characters. Joshua Dick is skilled at demonstrating Robert’s nervous panic, Jessica Shearer Wilson makes a perfect pouty paramour, and Liz Dutton is wonderfully over the top as the wacky chef.
While the production never fully achieves the manic whimsical frenzy of a top flight farce, the skilled hand of experienced director Tom Prewitt is evident in the clever ways he bounces the characters off each other and around Tobias Harding’s beautiful set. There are some charming bits of staging and comedic business that are adroitly used. Even the occasionally drifting accents have their own charms.
Special recognition should also be given to Cheryl Patton for an especially inspired costume design. Suzette’s offbeat character is revealed instantly by her opening outfit, a succession of shirts worn by the oft-stained Bernard become increasingly less suitable, and the eventual nightwear of all of the characters (especially the luscious Susanne) are nice revealing of character and other assets.
Don’t Dress for Dinner is a work with broad audience appeal. While it can be described as a sex farce, it has the innocence of its 1960s origins. Once the story kicks in, adults of all ages looking for laughs can find light-hearted entertainment in a renovated French farmhouse currently located in McLean.
Don’t Dress for Dinner
Written by Marc Camoletti . Adapted by Robin Hawdon
Directed by Tom Prewitt
Produced by 1st Stage
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
Running time: 2 hour 10 min with 1 intermission