Don’t Dress for Dinnerby Marc Camoletti (English version probably by Robin Hawdon). Directed by Phil Rice.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"I’m so used to these delicate situations."
Stephen Powell, Ken Dillon, Brett Epstein; photo provided
Two hours of laughter on a hot summer night seems like the perfect antidote to heavy humidity, constant rain and changing air pressure. At the Theater Barn in New Lebanon their season is getting a proper kick-off with "Don’t Dress for Dinner," a very humorous French import by the author of their previous hit - in 2011 - "Boeing Boeing." More a Boulevard Comedy than a Farce, it has farcical elements but gets its laughs more from the genuine article, comedy, than from the slap-dash physical work that usually includes five doors opening and closing discharging people who never manage to see one another. (Boulevard Theatre is a genre characterized by middlebrow sex comedies and named for Paris' Boulevard du Temple, location of many theaters.) Marc Camoletti has written better plays, but this one is as much a Feydeau farce as anything Feydeau, a Boulevard Comedy author, ever wrote.
Director Phil Rice has proven himself a consummate king of comedy over the years and he once again comes through with this delicious little laugh-fest. Though the 2012 Broadway production starring Jennifer Tilly as Suzanne was a 93 performance flop Rice and the Barn have given it a new chance and their choice, as usual, proves to be the right one. Broadway may be over its fixation with light comedy - Goodbye, Neil Simon - but summer theater in the Berkshire region can easily make room for this stuff.
There is a brilliant quirky cast in this production. Stephen Powell and Alyssa H. Chase play the protagonists, a husband and wife who have taken lovers but love one another enough to stay together. Powell’s Bernard is a suave young man whose clothes do make this man while Chase’s Jacqueline is a woman whose appearance is all in the face and hair. These two actors can time laughs, kill with comic reactions and takes, and at the same time be the most mundane, suburbanites imaginable. Like all French characters Jacqueline and Bernard have a simple way of justifying their own infidelities while scorning those of their mates; Chase and Powell pull this off superbly and their shared sense of jealousy and passion are carried out with props and facial expressions that would give a fine sense of pride to a Walt Disney cartoonist.
Brittany Silver’s Suzanne is a hilarious misfit in this setting. She seems to be out of scope with her lover’s home, somehow larger, exaggerated and some of the credit for that must go the costume designer, Darren Logane Jordan Robinson, whose clothes for this show are perfect for each character but most especially so for Suzanne. Silver and Jacqueline literally swing a duet out of their need for vengeance for perceived betrayals (by the same man, but they don’t know it). The laughs are so loud and long here that in other hands this could drag out the show. These two manipulate the minutes and the audience and keep the flow and the build going.
Jacqueline’s lover, and her husband’s best friend (and didn’t you suspect that one?) Robert is played with aplomb by Brett Epstein who is funny just standing still and saying nothing. So when he moves and speaks it is impossible to contain yourself. In the second act he has a monologue that is so long Ayn Rand could have written it, and yet he delivers it like the Minute Waltz, makes it understandable and gets his laughs. This is a talent not to be missed.
The remaining two character, George and Suzette. Ken Dillon’s personal history has no bearing on his role, but you have to read his bio in the program to appreciate his varietal skills. What he brings to this role, however, is a straightforward style that adds punch to the play and keeps the men on their toes. His ardent desire for his "missing" wife is nothing less than grand.
As the missing, manipulative, money-making Suzette, the Theater Barn regular Kathleen Carey makes a major impression. Her character is highly adaptable and Carey has to keep up with Suzette’s willingness to portray, for a fee, anything anyone wants her to be. She is so good at this that her laughs are almost guaranteed and her personal charm shows through Suzette like a beacon-light. She performs one of the funniest, simplest Tango sequences in the 30 year history of the Barn.
Phil Rice has woven these farcical characters, broader then most in the Boulevard School, into a dynamic whole cloth that presents with both its fine-art face and its back-stage glimpses an almost glamorous foray into this other French school of theatrical comedy. On a deceptive set by Abe Phelps that presents almost the right number of doors rarely used, under the pale but emotional lighting design by Allen E. Phelps and in the costumes by Logane Robinson, this presents well and delights its on-lookers with these opportunities to laugh away the pain of the day.
Don’t Dress for Dinner plays at the Theater Barn, located at 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, NY through July 7. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-794-8989 or go to their website at www.theaterbarn.com.