Don't Dress for Dinner
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
April 21, 2012
Roundabout Theatre Company has chosen to close its relatively underwhelming 2011-2012 American Airlines Theatre season with an import: John Tillinger’s production of Marc Camoletti’s sex farce Don’t Dress for Dinner (in an adaptation by Robin Hawdon), which had a successful run with a mostly different cast at Chicago’s Royal George Theatre in 2008. The ‘60s romp is a sequel of sorts to Camoletti’s earlier farce Boeing-Boeing, which involves three of the same characters, none of whom has changed in between and all of whom still have the same voracious sexual appetite.
If you’re offended by the prospect of women behaving as nothing more than sex objects trying to please their cunning-but-dim men folk, Don’t Dress for Dinner probably isn’t the entertainment for you. If you’re willing to overlook that and dive head first into Camoletti and Hawdon’s gleefully stupid and thoroughly inconsequential world, you’ll probably have a good time, though admittedly, not a great one.
The setting is a farmhouse-turned-mansion on the outskirts of Paris (designed as a to-die-for rustic cabin in the woods by John Lee Beatty) that belongs to Bernard (Adam James) and Jacqueline (Patricia Kalember), a happily married couple with secret lovers. As she’s about to leave for her mother’s, Robert (Ben Daniels), her paramour and Bernard’s best friend, calls to announce his imminent plans for a visit. Meanwhile, Bernard’s voluptuous mistress, Suzanne (Jennifer Tilly), is about to arrive for a cozy, romantic rendezvous. Chaos and confusion reign when Jacqueline decides to stay, and Suzette (Spencer Kayden), the mousy rent-a-chef Bernard has hired for the evening, shows up before the other Suzie.
For his part, Tillinger has over-staged nearly all of the physical comedy, and because of that the production suffers from a distinct lack of spontaneity. Yet it also falters in the hard-working but majorly forced performances of James and Daniels, two strong dramatic actors who aren’t natural farceurs. The pair diligently perform the physical shtick that Tillinger has meticulously crafted for them, but they do so without wit, and without wit, they’re just two guys caught in a compromising position while tangled in a telephone cord. On the other hand, David Aron Damane, who appears briefly as a second act deus-ex-machina, is a lot more innate in his performance as a French tough guy. Kalember earns her laughs from her cool-as-a-cucumber demeanor throughout, while Tilly, her mammoth bosom a character in and of itself, wrings laughs just by being Jennifer Tilly (not that that’s a complaint; I love Jennifer Tilly).
But it’s Kayden who steals the entire show from the moment she enters, much as Mark Rylance did in the recent Broadway revival of Boeing-Boeing. Her work is a master class in the art of farce, if there ever was one, as she transforms from a drab cook to suddenly sexy French vamp. She also earns the evening’s biggest laugh, a delicious sight-gag involving one of William Ivey Long’s expectedly sumptuous costumes.
The audience, for the record, ate the production up from the moment the curtain rose with a French-language version of “Hit the Road, Jack” (American pop hits sung in French also greet the audience as they arrive). Warts and all, it is pretty enjoyable, and I had a better time in a single minute at Don’t Dress for Dinner than I did during the unending slogs that were Man and Boy and The Road to Mecca.