DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER
by Marc Camoletti
Director - Andy Baldwin
Stage Manager - Anna Lard
Assistant Stage Manager - Jessica Cook
Set Designer - Jack Hardaway
Lighting Designer - Michael B. Winters
Costume/Hair/Makeup Designer - Meredith Hinton
Properties Designer/Scenic Artist - Jennye James
Sound Designer - Andrea Allmond
Bernard - Chase Burnett
Suzanne - Morgan McClure
George - Ben Phillips
Suzette - Amber Quinn
Jacqueline - Rachel Robertson
Robert - Jeff Swearingen
Reviewed Performance 1/15/2011
Reviewed by Laura L. Watson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Theatre Arlington's production of Don't Dress for Dinner is a delightful tongue twisting sex farce - nothing more and nothing less.
Written by Marc Camoletti, this upbeat, albeit slightly predictable, comedy begins with French (with posh British accents) couple Bernard and Jacqueline talking about their upcoming weekend that will be spent apart- her at her mother's, he home alone. They appear happily married and content until he lets it slip that his old friend Robert is back in town and will be spending the weekend. Unbeknownst to him, Jacqueline has been having an affair with Robert.
She immediately cancels her plans, announcing that her mother is sick, and that she will be happy to see Robert. Unbeknownst to Jacqueline or Robert, Bernard has begun an affair with a high fashion model, Suzanne who is his REAL guest for the weekend. Bernard tells Robert to pretend Suzanne is HIS girlfriend, and of course Suzanne will play along. The biggest monkey wrench is thrown in when Suzette arrives- the French accented cook Bernard hired to cater his romantic weekend.
Robert mistakes Suzette as the girlfriend and introduces her as such to a jealous Jacqueline, and so when Suzanne arrives, she must pretend to be the cook. As a friend of mine summed it up, it's one of those comedies where everyone is sleeping with the wrong person and there are lots of doors for the characters to go in and out of while playing silly games.
Theatre Arlington is a classic, medium sized proscenium theatre. The play's setting is a French farmhouse outside of Paris. The largest portion of the set, designed by Jack Hardaway with Jennye James as scenic artist and properties designer, is the living room with a long thin couch and small bar.
Upstage center on a raised platform is the front door, to the left of that are the stairs leading to Bernard and Jacqueline's master bedroom. On the far left is the door to one of the guest bedrooms, which becomes Suzanne/Suzette's room. To the right of the front door is the swinging door to the kitchen and dining room. To the right of this door is the door that leads to the other guest bedroom, which is Robert's room.
An interesting factor of this set is that it is not attached- there are slits in between the doors where a realistic set would normally have a solid wall. This allows the audience to see actors make entrances and exits (always in character) and gives the audience a clue that this is an over the top farce. As if 4 doors within 20 feet of each other wasn't a big enough clue of the impending shenanigans.
While the set makes use of the entire space and gave many interesting angles (and all the white paint and furniture gave a sleek, ultra-modern feel to the couple), it needs some basic reinforcements. The set wobbles. This is particularly distracting because of all the doors being slammed and being knocked on, etc for the MULTIPLE entrances and exits. Its design looks great and is well suited to the story, but the construction of it needs a bit more.
As the story progresses, - or multiplies in complication, if you will -, the costumes by Meredith Hinton (who played triple duty as the costume/hair/ and makeup designer) also tell quite a story. At the beginning of the play, everyone is in business casual clothes except for the eccentric cook, Suzanne who is wearing something resembling the concoction a toddler learning to dress herself might come up with. As dinner time nears, everyone spruces up a bit to make it a slightly formal evening with cocktail dresses. Without overpowering the work the actors are doing, the costumes are a window into who these characters are.
Jacqueline with her softly elegant satin dress, Suzanne with her super tight hot pink strapless cocktail dress, and Suzette who, in a pinch, takes her cook's uniform black pencil skirt and wears it as a short dress show us the dynamic differences in these three beautiful women. The men put on ties and jackets, though Bernard has trouble keeping his shirt clean and/or dry. After intermission, which is after dinner, everyone eventually changes into something "a little more comfortable." Bernard appears in his silk pajamas, Robert in his tank and boxers, Jacqueline in a little nighty, and Suzanne in stripper like apparel. Suzette has to miss out on this final costume change as her chef husband, complete with chef's coat, arrives. The costumes are well constructed and fit the actors very well. For a show where each actor uses their natural hair and not a wig, it's unusual that hair design even gets a mention, but here, it should.
Jacqueline has GORGEOUS long, dark wavy hair that she wears pulled back in a proper bun until the final scene when she lets it all go. Suzanne has stick straight blonde hair with layers and bangs that give her an edgy, modern look. Suzette's hair is dark red with big curls that is in a careless up-do at the beginning that is later let go so she can play the role of the sexy model girlfriend of Robert, or Robert's niece, and possibly Bernard's lover- depending on who you ask. These three very different types of beauty are all accented well with good hair and makeup design that allows the women to play off each other, and the men, in hilarious under tones.
From a technical standpoint, the lights and sound are fairly simple. Lighting designer Michael B. Winters had no change in the lights' intensity or colors once the dialogue began, and rightly so as the story just needs them to come on at the beginning, and be turned off once everyone has chosen their ultimate bedmate. The only sound design, by Andrea Allmond, that I recall is that of cell phones ringing with text messages. It was simple but in no way lacking.
Director Andy Baldwin uses creative and precise blocking throughout the entire space that challenges his actors to go for it and yet be spot on in timing and placement. This show is never for a moment stagnant. From awkward positions on the couch to playing with the different actors' heights to the ingenious ON STAGE costume change for Suzette from the traditional maid's uniform to sexy cocktail dress, this show keeps MOVING and was as visually interesting as it was to listen to. Considering the rapid fire dialogue that requires exact diction and straight faces that is hilarious to listen to, that is really saying something. The only questionable choice is to give four of the six characters upper-class British accents, while the cook and her husband have French accents. It is my understanding that they should all have French accents OR just use Standard American English. The British accents in NO WAY detract from the story, I was just confused as to the setting at first. Plus, I love hearing a variety of accents done well, and for the most part, this cast really delivered.
All this innovative directing would be impossible to appreciate if it was not for masterful casting. This ensemble of actors fits together like a perfect puzzle with distinct, memorable pieces that equally shined and support all the others. Chase Burnett, as Bernard, is tall and lanky with a flair for the eccentric. He is the closest to being a realistic character, but just when you think he has to be the straight man, he hits the audience with a bit of physical comedy that proves he has zingers in him, too.
Playing his lovely wife Jacqueline is Rachel Robertson. She holds onto her respect and place in society as a middle-upper-class woman who just so happens to enjoy some hanky-panky on the side. Just because she isn't in super sexy clothes doesn't stop Robertson from working her female seduction on both the men and the audience. She manages to do it all, though, with a touch of classy elegance.
Amber Quinn's Suzette, is originally hired to be the cook but is smart enough to make money any way she can, has a very thick French accent to go along with her tall stance and striking red curls. In the beginning, her line delivery is constantly full force and after a while, becomes a little grating. However, as the story continues to build, this becomes part of her comedic charm, and she eventually finds levels on which to communicate effectively. Morgan McClure, as Suzanne, is the blonde bombshell model/actress who has the timing and facial expressions to match the others, but her accent keeps failing her. Like Bernard, Jacqueline and Robert, she is given a British accent. I think. For the first few scenes in Act I, I actually thought she was American. Then, she has a British accent for a few scenes, and then it disappears again.
Robert is played in a panicked deadpan hilariously well by Jeff Swearingen. He has an earnest energy about him that keeps the audience as nervous about who and how the secrets will all be discovered as he is. His angst over this possibility helps keep the audience anticipating the next reveal.
Though only allowed a brief appearance in the end, Ben Phillips is George, Suzette's chef husband. He is intended to be the big, burly man who comes for his wife and desires to set these men straight about who his wife is and what kind of woman she is. Though his presence is imposing, he comes across as a jolly teddy bear. I just don't believe he is a powerhouse of strength that has the other men shaking in their boots and the three women trying to hold him back. However, he nails the French accent and works the funny bits to their maximum.
This is an impressive cast who no doubt have spent countless years honing their craft to be able to nail performances like these night after night.
Theatre Arlington's Don't Dress for Dinner is a good laugh for an older teen and adult audience that is soon forgotten after the curtain closes. It neither challenges the audience nor deeply affects them, though everyone in the audience leaves smiling. Sometimes, that's all you need from an evening at the theatre.
DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER by Marc Camoletti
Runs through January 30th
Performed at 305 W. Main Street, Arlington, Texas.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.theatrearlington.org or by calling (817)275-7661.