DON’T DRESS FOR DINNERBy Marc Camoletti
Richardson Theatre Centre
Director –Janette Oswald
Set Designer – LaMar Graham
Lighting Designer – Darien Graham
Sound Designer – Richard Stephens, Jr.
Costume Designer – Janette Oswald, The Cast
Bernard – Eddy Herring
Jacqueline– Leigh Wyatt Moore
Suzette – Laura Merchant
Suzanne– Penny Chinn
George–Richard Stephens, Jr.
Reviewed Performance: 7/11/2015
Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Don’t Dress for Dinner is set in a country house in France on the evening a dinner planned for three- Bernard and his mistress, Suzanne, and old friend Robert. Sounds fairly simple, right? Wrong….Unbeknownst to Bernard, Robert is having an affair with Bernard’s wife, Jacqueline, who quickly cancels visiting her mother when she hears of Robes arrival. Enter Suzette, the Cordon Bleu hired cook to cater the affair, a prime source for the confusion. Given Suzette and Suzanne’s similar names, Robert initially assumes Suzette is Bernard’s mistress, and off we go into raging suspicions, sexual shenanigans, and old-fashioned hanky-panky. The small ensemble cast includes a wealth of talent. The comedy is a lengthy two and a half hours, however, as each element to the plot unfolds, the pacing and the timing rapidly increase as the audience is drawn in to the nutty situations, and each character’s attempt to conceal information from each other. The cast was quickly able to overcome some apparent pacing issues, as the initial set-up and plot build up are developed. Once the general plot was developed, the ensemble of characters quickly adapted to the ever-changing situations, with precision and comic timing worthy of a farce.
Director Janette Oswald brought together an ensemble cast which worked well together, and collaborated with a crew who clearly took their jobs seriously and knit together scenery, lighting and sound that enhanced the story being told by these characters. This was Oswald’s swan-song with Richardson Theatre Center, and it was apparent that she devoted a large amount of dedication, talent, and vision to this production. The overall vision for the production was carried out nicely, it all aspects of the production-from the casting, to the characterization…each element was like a puzzle piece, all fitting together to create one final product, with care and detail.
Set Designer LaMar Graham successfully transformed the intimate proscenium stage into a country home. I was impressed with Graham’s attention to detail is all aspects of the set. The feel of the home was very modern, but, also very rustic. As an audience member, I love when you are able to become intimate with the set. In a space like Richardson Theatre Center, the audience is truly able to examine every aspect and detail of the set, and is transformed right into the living room of the country home. This really allows audiences to truly be drawn into the story, and for the duration of the story, see the action unfold right before their eyes. I especially enjoyed seeing some of the set dressing (French Opera and Theatre poster) and the overall layout of the furniture allowed some nice stage pictures from the actors.
Lighting was designed by Darien Graham. Graham did a fantastic job plotting appropriate lighting and cleverly prevented casting distracting shadows. Through the performance, his cuing to enhance each scene was spot on. Often times, I feel like lighting can be an afterthought, especially in a straight forward production such as this one. However, I felt the mood was established and consistent throughout the course of the play. Assisting the lighting and set, Sound Designer Richard Stephens Jr. carried through with his own detailing, and I especially appreciated his selection of music that was used in before the show, and during the intermission. I really enjoyed hearing some of Edith Piaf’s musical catalogue, and Douce France, by Charles Trenet. Stephens’ selection of songs was an integral touch to put the audience in the mood of the French culture. As an audiophile, I was greatly satisfied and impressed with his library of music. It really added depth to the production.
Jake Shanahan was incredibly believable in the role of Robert. Through facial expression, body language and incredible comic timing, Shanahan convincingly portrayed the thirty-something friend of Bernard, and Jacqueline’s lover, caught in the middle of confusion, anxious to hide his own secret from Bernard. His role provided much of the constant humor, and his enthusiasm and honesty on stage were nearly constant, having appropriate interaction with his ensemble members, and lovely on stage relationships with Suzette, and Bernard. Shanahan never faltered in his delivery, and all interactions with other cast members were believable and spot on.
Laura Merchant, in the role of Suzette was skillful in portraying the cook sent to prepare dinner. Merchant was skillful and talented in line delivery and in comedic timing. Through facial expressions, and a larger than life personality, Merchant’s performance was appropriate to the role. She provided humor to each scene with her movement, and apparent dedication to the character. Every time she appeared on stage, audiences were guaranteed multiple laughs-whether it was from facial expressions, dialogue, or movement. Suzette, by far, was my favorite character in the play.
This production of Don’t Dress for Dinner is worth seeing. The attention to detail evident in all aspects of this production makes for a satisfying experience. The talent and comic timing of this cast is impressive. Audiences will be laughing long after the curtain closes. If you are in the mood for a light, welcoming comedy…I would recommend it without “reservations!”
Richardson Theatre Center
518 W. Arapaho Road, Ste 113
Richardson, Texas 75080
Plays through July 26, 2015
Thursdays at 7:30 pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Sundays at 2:30 pm
Ticket prices range from $20-$22 depending on day.
For information go to www.richardsontheatrecenter.net, or call the box office at 972-699-1130.