Playwright Marc Camoletti’s Don’t Dress for Dinner doesn’t quite have the insane edge of his Boeing-Boeing, but it’s still very entertaining in that same sex farce vein. Farce is, for whatever reason, suddenly hot again (to my delight), so there’s some competition in town – Don’t Dress for Dinner isn’t a world-beater in this arena, but it can certainly hold it’s silly head up high.
In Don’t Dress for Dinner, Bernard plans for a romantic rendezvous with his mistress, complete with gourmet caterer and an alibi courtesy of his friend Robert. But when Jacqueline, Bernard’s wife, learns that Robert will be visiting for the weekend, she decides to stay, setting the stage for lots of the subterfuge and mistaken identities that are farce’s stock in trade.
The star name here is Jennifer Tilly as the mistress Suzanne, and she is tailor-made for the role, all boobs and throaty sex-kitten voice. But the real scene-stealer is Spencer Kayden as chef Suzette (and yes, much is made of the confusion of “Suzys” on the scene), who reveals her physical comedy gifts slowly, layer by layer, like a parfait. Her performance truly blossoms when Bernard and Robert encourage Suzette to emulate the Parisian snobs she so often serves – Kayden really starts rolling here, and doesn’t stop until the end.
Director John Tillinger gets the tempo and precision of farce right, though there are some puzzling production choices. What’s with John Lee Beatty’s oh-so-weighty set, which doesn’t do the light comic tone of the play any favors? William Ivey Long’s costumes are much wittier, no surprise there – but I still kept asking, why are these design elements fighting each other like this?
Still, this production manages to elict belly laughs in the echoey American Airlines Theatre, which is itself no friend to comedy (The 39 Steps, for example, was much more fun at the Helen Hayes Theatre). The show is, at least, that thing all of its characters are seeking – a really good time!
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