Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Don't Dress for Dinner
Desert Stages Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's review of My Fair Lady


Ashley Jackson, Wade Moran, Deborah Ostreicher,
and Geoff Goorin

Photo by Heather Butcher / Desert Stages Theatre
Farce can be a difficult thing to pull off. You need the right pacing, proper comic timing, and the ability to not veer too far into the extreme; otherwise, it can come across as blatant mugging and scenery chewing. Desert Stages Theatre's production of the French farce Don't Dress For Dinner, while not perfect, features some fun performances, spirted direction, and several hilarious moments.

Written by Marc Camoletti in 1987 and translated into English by Robin Hawdon, Don't Dress For Dinner is actually a sequel of sorts to Camoletti's earlier play Boeing Boeing. It is your typical farce with plenty of misdirection, mistaken identities, and double entendres but a minimal amount of door slamming when compared to other more famous farces like Noises Off and Lend Me a Tenor. Featuring the same two male characters from the earlier play, Don't Dress For Dinner is actually a better constructed play, due to the fact that the comical action starts within just minutes of the opening, while in Boeing Boeing the craziness doesn't really hit its stride until about twenty minutes in.

The plot follows Bernard and Jacqueline, a middle-aged married couple both of whom are having affairs on the side. Jacqueline is supposed to be going out of town to see her mother, so Bernard has arranged for his mistress Suzanne to visit for the weekend along with his friend Robert. When Jacqueline learns that Robert is coming for the weekend she changes her plans as Robert is actually her lover and she figures that if she stays she and Robert can find some time to be together. Bernard has also arranged for a cook to come for the weekend to help out with things. When Jacqueline tells Bernard that she is not going to see her mother, he convinces Robert to pretend that Suzanne is his girlfriend. When Robert confuses Suzette the cook for Bernard's mistress Suzanne, hilarity begins. And things really get interesting when Suzette begins to understand exactly what is going on around her. She monopolizes the situation by demanding money to keep quiet. While the stakes get higher and higher she gets richer and richer. The craziness doesn't stop for the next two hours.

While there are several times when the cast gets too broad or even a little amateurish, the production is fortunate that Ashley Jackson, a newcomer to DST, is playing Suzette the cook. She has a natural ease in her line delivery and good comic timing. She manages to elevate her scenes with the other cast members, always keeps things interesting when she is on stage, and expertly handles everything required of her.

As Bernard and Robert, Geoff Goorin and Wade Moran deliver on the frantic, crazed requirements of their parts. While they form somewhat realistic relationships with their romantic partners, neither really sizzle in the sexuality of the roles. Though that may partly be due to the upper crust British adaptation, which has them using phrases like "darling" when referring to the person they are in love with, which does tend to make the whole affair more "Downton Abbey" than "Lady Chatterly's Lover." The same could be said of Deborah Ostreicher, who plays Bernard's wife. She is sensual, perfectly charming, and does well when displaying how her character gets overly agitated. But this is a sex farce, so a little more heat would be nice from the three leads. The same can't be said about Skylar Ryan. As Suzanne, she provides a huge shot of sensuality in the otherwise mostly prim and proper cast. She has no problem letting it all hang out, and her curves and flash of flesh add a nice bawdy, though refined, element to the play.

Directors Virginia Olivieri and Gary Zaro do a nice job of staging the action on the small DST stage. While the play does bog down a bit toward the end, they keep the pace fairly brisk and their cast hitting their appropriate marks. However, it is unfortunate that this production doesn't incorporate any accents, especially since it is set in France. Having everyone speak with an American accent seems strange. The recent Broadway revival used English accents for everyone but Suzette and her husband, who had thick French accents. This helped to not only set the location accurately but also made the use of British slang in the script seem appropriate. DST's design elements are fine, with the minimal set serviceable and Mickey Courtney's costumes a nice combination of evening wear, a couple of outrageous shirts for Goorin, and silky pajamas for the whole cast that add some sensuality to the production.

While DST's production may suffer from some shortcomings, especially with a cast that really needs to turn up the heat, be more natural, and pull back from crossing the line into being too broad, Don't Dress For Dinner still results in a fun affair.

Don't Dress for Dinner runs through September 19th, 2016, at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale. For tickets and information, call 480-483-1664 or visit desertstages.org.

Written by Marc Camoletti, Adapted by Robin Hawdon
Directed by Virginia Olivieri & Gary Zaro
Set Design by Virginia Olivieri, Gary Zaro & Matt Stetler
Costume Design by Richard Mickey Courtney
Lighting & Sound Designer: Matt Stetler

Cast:
Geoff Goorin: Bernard
Deborah Ostreicher: Jacqueline
Wade Moran: Robert
Ashley Jackson: Suzette
Skylar Ryan: Suzanne
Jeff Viso: George


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