BWW Reviews: Laughs Come Easy in DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER at Circle Theatre
In Don't Dress for Dinner, Circle Theatre of Grand Rapids has created an entertaining, well-crafted bedroom farce featuring brilliant physical comedy and a whirlwind of action that keeps the audience on the edge of their seat from start to finish.
In a converted French country house, Bernard (Patrick Hendren) is preparing for a weekend birthday celebration with his mistress, Suzanne (Sherryl Despres). He has taken care of all the arrangements, including booking a Cordon Bleu chef (Liene Strautnieks), arranging for his friend Robert (Don VandenHeuvel) to stay and be his alibi, and shipping his wife, Jacqueline (Kim Mercatante) off to visit her mother.
As Robert calls from the train station to announce his arrival it is revealed that he is having an affair with Jacqueline, who, not wanting to miss the opportunity to see her absent lover, cancels with her mother and tells her husband that she has come down with the flu. Bernard, panicking, improvises a solution to the imminent arrival of his paramour by demanding that Robert claim Suzanne as his mistress, instead. Unable to refuse without revealing his own relationship with his best friend's wife, he unhappily agrees, and the couple leaves to get additional supplies for dinner.
The scheme may have worked, too, if the cook, Suzette, hadn't arrived during Bernard's absence. Believing her to be the mistress, Robert pays her off to play her part, and by the time the real Suzanne arrives and is told to be the cook, everyone is pretending to be someone they are not, and then the real laughter begins! As the alcohol flows (and the wily Suzette demands yet another two hundred francs for her part in the deception), the slip-ups increase and the as the deceitful philanderers reach their inevitable reveal, the cook-turned-mistress-turned-niece-turned-cook creates an absurd, chaotic, and brilliant explanation for jealous husband George (Eric Hand) that saves the day for all involved and more than earns her new Chanel coat.
Circle Theatre has assembled an extremely likeable and tight-knit ensemble cast, and it is absolutely impossible to choose a favorite character among them. Each caricature, from the cheating husband and bachelor best friend to the shrewd and crafty wife and the statuesque mistress are played well, and offset perfectly by the worldlier cook and her beefcake beau.
Don't Dress for Dinner may not be as widely-known as the Marc Camoletti standard Boeing-Boeing, or even the Neil Simon classic Rumors, but it is just as funny. The misunderstandings and attempted cover-ups lead the cast (and audience) around in circles of confusion, but never become repetitive. In farce, the comedy does not need to be subtle, and these actors make no attempts to downplay the absurdity and outrageousness of the situation at hand. (Kudos also must be given to costume designer Bill Dunckel, as the French maid uniform-to-little black dress sight gag is the best in the show!) This means that the physical comedy is a great highlight, as the drunken Robert and Suzette drunkenly perform "Thriller", Bernard runs out of clean shirts, and no one has any idea who is actually sleeping in the Piggery!
Don't Dress for Dinner is, above all, fun, and makes for a hilarious evening in the theatre.
Written by Marc Camoletti; adapted by Robin Hawdon; directed by Tom Kaechele and Rachael Reinholtz; Presented by Circle Theatre of Grand Rapids at the Performing Arts Center of Aquinas College; (616) 456-6656. June 11-14, 18-21 at 7:30pm, June 15 at 5pm.
WITH: Sherryl Despres (Suzanne), Eric Hand (George), Patrick Hendren (Bernard), Don VandenHeuvel (Robert), Kim Mercatante (Jacqueline), Liene Strautnieks (Suzette)