Review: “Don’t Dress for Dinner” at the Theater Barn
by Gail M. Burns
The Theater Barn has opened their 30th anniversary season with a bang with this hilarious farce, Don’t Dress for Dinner. Written in French by Marc Camoletti as Pyjamas Pour Six, it had a healthy Parisian run beginning in 1987. An English adaptation by Robin Hawdon opened in London in 1991 where it settled in for a six year run, but didn’t make its way to New York until 2012. This is a mystery since this is a far better farce than Boeing, Boeing, Camoletti’s earlier work, which recently had a healthy Broadway run, and which the Theater Barn assayed semi-successfully a few years back. This time, thanks to director Phil Rice and a vigorous cast, they have a bona fide hit on their hands.
Bernard (Stephen Powell) has a hot weekend planned with his mistress, actress/model Suzanne (Brittany Silver), while his wife Jacqueline (Alyssa H. Chace) is away visiting her mother, inviting his best friend Robert (Brett Epstein) to stay as a cover. What Bernard doesn’t know is that Jacqueline and Robert are having an affair, and when she learns Bernard has invited him she cancels her plans. Bernard has also hired a cook to come and prepare a gourmet dinner to impress his mistress. The cook’s name turns out to be Suzette (Kathleen Carey). In order to keep Jacqueline from finding out that Suzanne is his mistress, Bernard asks Robert to tell Jacqueline that she’s his, which Robert doesn’t want to do because Jacqueline is already his mistress…
Suzanne, Suzette, they both go by Suzy…here comes trouble.
And more trouble shows up later in the form of Suzette’s hulking and jealous husband, George (Ken Dillon.)
The lies and deceptions multiply exponentially, as do the laughs, as everyone tries to cover his or her own tracks while keeping everyone else in the dark. As the evening wears on everyone gets drunker and drunker and less and less dressed.
The Barn has two strong physical comics in Powell and Epstein, who would literally be chewing on the scenery if you spread a little brie on it. They do takes, double-takes, spit takes. Epstein bangs his fists, Powell rolls his eyes. Powell is tall, blonde, and gangly. Epstein, a dead ringer for a young Bill Dana, is short, dark, and wiry. They are such a great team that it is easy to overlook how good the women are.
Thank goodness for the reliably wonderful Kathleen Carey, who leads the distaff side of the hilarity with bravura, despite having to regularly do battle with her strapless costume on opening night, which was determined to descend. Carey’s Suzette is wily and willful, taking advantage of every opportunity to get the guys to fork over larger and larger tips for her agreeing to play along with their escalating web of lies.
Silver is all sass and boobs and blonde curls as the model/actress made to play the role of the cook and serve the dinner in her evening gown. Chace comes across as a little to staid to be believable as a woman keeping a man on the side, but she is properly jealous of both Bernard and Robert when she thinks they are cheating on her.
Rice keeps the bodies flying across Abe Phelps’ handsome set. I have a feeling that the names of the rooms in Bernard and Jacqueline’s renovated barn home were funnier in French than they are in English – the Cow Shed, the Piggery and the Chicken House are only good for a giggle – but I found the black and white moo cow slip covers on the throw pillows to be subtly hilarious. Allen Phelps has done a fine job with the lighting and sound effects.
Logane Robinson obviously didn’t have much of a budget to work with, but still, there is no excuse for sending an actress out on stage to do physical comedy in an ill-fitting costume. Carey was wearing sufficient undergarments that neither she nor the audience would have been abashed if her strapless dress had made it final descent, but her job on stage was to give a performance, not defend her modesty. I hope the problem is remedied immediately.
A small, non-Equity house just over the border from the Berkshires in New Lebanon, NY, the Theater Barn is literally a mom-and-pop-and-son operation, and it often gets short shrift in comparison to the larger Berkshire theatres, but for the past thirty years they have offered up a cheerful stream of light comedies, murder mysteries, and excellent small musicals. Tickets are just $24 ($22 for the Sunday matinees), the house is air-conditioned, and there are no bad seats. Don’t Dress for Dinner is as good as any show currently running in the better zip codes, and the funniest thing I’ve seen this year without a Marx Brother in it.
The Theater Barn presents Don’t Dress for Dinner by Marc Camoletti, translated and adapted by Robin Hawdon, directed by Phil Rice. Set Design, Abe Phelps; Lighting Design, Allen Phelps; Costume Design, Logane Robinson; Stage Management, Megan K. Smith. CAST: Kathleen Carey – Suzette; Alyssa H. Chace – Jacqueline; Ken Dillon – George; Brett Epstein – Robert; Stephen Powell – Bernard; Brittany Silver – Suzanne. The Theater Barn, 654 State Route 20, New Lebanon, NY 12125. June 28-July 7. www.theaterbarn.com 518-794-8989