Cards on the table: farce, especially bedroom farce, is not really this reviewer’s cup of Oolong. Scheming spouses, mistaken identities, ever so many doors (all the doors). Shenanigans ensuing. It’s not a lack of a sense of humor (one hopes), but more a sense that we’ve seen all the tricks this particular pony has to perform. That being said, it can be fun in sufficiently deft hands, and under Christie Vela in her directing debut at Stage West, the Moliere-meets-Dynasty production of Marc Camoletti’s Don’t Dress for Dinner is a bawdy, rollicking good-time production of this light piece that keeps the jokes moving at a breakneck pace until the show’s final moments.
The play comes to us as an adaptation from the French language original by Marc Camoletti, of Boeing-Boeing fame. Don’t Dress for Dinner is the playwright’s second-most well-known play; it ran in Paris for a few years before being translated into English and debuting to acclaim on the West End in 1991. Its Gallic-tinged antics seemed to do a little better overseas; when mounted at the Papermill Playhouse in 1993, and later on Broadway in 2012, critics were less enthused, preferring the kitschy Mad Men-esque aesthetic of Boeing-Boeing. The protagonist of Boeing-Boeing was also a philanderer named Bernard, with a friend Robert and a fiancée (one of several, of course) named Jacqueline. We have stumbled on a sequel.
Because life is short and death comes for us all, I’ll confine myself to laying out only the broad strokes of the show’s Byzantine plot. Well-to-do ex-pat Brit Bernard (Mark Shum) has just about gotten his wife Jacqueline (Dana Schultes) out the door for a weekend at her mother’s so he can canoodle with his mistress Suzanne (Catherine D. DuBord) when the couple’s friend Robert (Michael Federico) announces unexpectedly that he’s back from overseas and planning a visit to the couple’s home outside Paris. Upon hearing this, Jacqueline, who’s been carrying on an affair with Robert (naturally), changes her plans and declares that she’ll be staying home after all. This forces Bernard to scramble for an explanation for Suzanne’s presence, and he recruits Robert into pretending Suzanne’s his girlfriend, despite the wrench that throws into Robert’s plans to seduce Jacqueline. This plan goes awry, however, when Robert mistakes Suzette (Allison Pistorius), the chef Bernard hired for the weekend, for Suzanne, and, with the frequent application of francs, convinces her to continue the charade. And off we go…
There’s only one way for a cast to approach a farce: all out. The cast of Stage West’s production do just that, sprinting through the performance without slowing for a moment. Mark Shum’s extensive background in P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster oeuvre shines through clearly in his performance as the increasingly panicked Bernard, and his manic energy plays well off Dana Schultes’ arch, cool Jacqueline. Michael Federico bounces between quick-thinking playboy and straight man as Robert, throwing himself into some of the hammiest dialogue of the piece and making it work. DuBord brings a nice comic flair to the bitchy, but game Suzanne (considering what she’s put through during the evening, Bernard must have some truly spectacular hidden depths). But it’s Pistorius’ Suzette who steals the show, becoming increasingly enmeshed in the machinations of the two—no, three couples. She not only displays perfect comedic timing, but also a talent for physical comedy that kept the audience in stitches.
Michelle Harvey’s set has some lovely ’80s flourishes, but it’s Ryan D. Schaap’s costume design that’s the real MVP. Some notable ensembles include Jacqueline’s initial “travelling” suit, with matching coat and plumed hat, Suzette’s punky studded leather jacket and acid-wash jeans (with the requisite crimped hair), Suzanne’s red suit with plaid “Chanel” coat (simply channeling the Alexis Carrington aesthetic, darling), and all the ladies’ nightwear options, which involve not only marabou feathers for Jacqueline, but leopard print for Suzanne—fabulous. Special mention to the onstage conversion of Suzette’s black skirt into a precariously tight and short, but chic, little black dress, which Suzette spends the rest of the show navigating to great comic effect.
As the curtain goes down, and everyone is cuddled in bed with someone (even if it isn’t the original candidate they had in mind), even the most curmudgeonly must admit that there’s a lot to enjoy in Stage West’s energetic staging of this sugary little French trifle. Bon appétit.
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