Wednesday 20 April 2016

Don't Dress for Dinner is French 60's silliness
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights :  Written in 1962 when he was 39, Frenchman Marc Cimoletti's Boeing-Boeing was set in Paris at the time of Mad Men : lots of juiced-up romances by jet-setting young fellows and gals fooling around with each other. And somehow all this political incorrectness was still able to hit just the right funny bone when resurrected on Broadway in 2008 and here in Vancouver by ACT in 2013.

Written in 1987 when he was 64, question arises about Don't Dress for Dinner, can Cimoletti resurrect his schtick of stupide de vivre from those earlier mashed-up times? Especially when you eliminate the sexy stewardesses. And transpose the glamorous Paris skyline to the French countryside with converted farm outbuildings whose bedrooms are called The Cow Shed and The Piggery. Make the main character Bernard a wearying married guy not a feisty bachelor. Assign him a bimbette model as mistress. And also! put buddy Robert into an affair with Bernard's wife. 

Farce is as farce does, and the Gateway Theatre production of Don't Dress for Dinner has plenty of zing! and zip! and madcap nonsense. Whether all the breathless chasing about is equal in compelling silliness to its predecessor Boeing-Boeing will depend, no doubt, on how your DNA accepts such a force-field. 

How it's all put together :  Bernard (Todd Thomson) rubs his hands with glee. Wife Jacqueline (Alison Dean) is trekking off for visit with her mom. That means he can invite his lover Suzanne (Krista Colosimo) out for a dirty week-end. For cover and alibi when Jacqueline returns home, he also invites long-time buddy and Best Man at their wedding Robert (Kirk Smith). [The same randy characters we met in Boeing-Boeing : despite the 27-year hiatus between Cimoletti's two Bernard-&-Robert scripts, Don't Dress is meant to be Boeing's follow-up.] 

To liven up the week-end, meanwhile, why not bring in some catered food for l'affaire by a Cordon Bleu caterer Suzette (Tess Degenstein). Thanks to an intercepted phone call, Jacqueline learns that Robert is coming. Instantly she feigns that l'mama has taken ill and so she'll be staying home after all. Jacqueline, recall, is Robert's mistress : she tiddles at the chance to blow sweet nothings into his ear when Bernard isn't looking.

Not knowing this, of course, Bernard is in a panic that his own philandering will surely be found out. Bernard demands that buddy Robert name Suzanne as his girl friend when she arrives. Robert's not happy but gets snookered into the charade even though it means he is two-timing his real girlfriend (Bernard's wife) Jacqueline. Karma and comedy demand that it is the caterer Suzette who arrives at Bernard's first. Robert gets befused & confuddled by the similarity of names and promptly introduces Suzette (Suzy) as his girl friend, not Suzanne. And so when Suzanne arrives shortly thereafter, the fun begins in earnest!

What the show brings to the stage :  Farce is stupid antics writ large. It can be really stupid like Mall Cop. Or it can be ironic stupid like Fawlty Towers. Or it can be somewhere between like the Don't Dress script : not completely pratfall goofy, but some of that. Not all clever ironic dictional delights like John Cleese's Basil Fawlty, but plenty of that here, too. The key in all these examples is that none of this is to be taken as even a smidgeon believable or serious.

Given the former cowshed as his bedroom, when he's badgered into claiming "Suzy" as his lover, not Bernard's, he whimpers : "It's not so much a mess as a dirty great pile of farmyard poo-poo!"

Early on, Robert tries to console Jacquline who's found evidence of Bernard's infidelity. Robert's splainin' is completely reminiscent of the Abbott & Costello classic routine "Who's on first" : "We can't blame Bernie for having a lover who was pretending to be my lover so you wouldn't know she was his lover, while all the time I was your lover pretending to be her lover so that he wouldn't know you had a lover. Especially when his real lover was all the time pretending to be -- to be..." "Pretending to be what?" Jacqueline presses. "I've lost track of all the lovers..." Robert confesses. As does the audience. Self-included. But details in farce are never the point. 

In Don't Dress, the Big Fun of the night is watching Suzette take on ever-changing roles, each time demanding first 200 francs, later 400, for every one of the masquerades she's asked to pull off. And watching Robert, particularly, go into dizzying verbal flight trying to stay one word, one gag, one plot-twist ahead of the rest of the room.

Production values that highlight the action : Jung-Hye Kim's converted funky French farmhouse to Conde Nast vaulted-ceiling digs to die for sets the stage, literally, for the night's action. And the period square squat bright orange armchairs and chesterfield with bauhaus coffee & end-tables were all a mere 100% Yes!

Equal kudos to Costume Designer Cindy Wiebe for each actor's period threads, from suits and cocktail dresses to jammies. The "strip" of Suzette's Cordon Bleu caterer uniform to slinky l.b.d. onesy was terrific.

Between them Directors Corcoran and Cant do a fine job of blocking the characters and giving them tons of gesticular stage business to play with. The physical comedy bits worked, mostly, though the rough-&-tumble stuff when Suzette's husband George arrived was on the "much" side, no question. Too, the resolution \ denouement phase of Act 2 was overly long, a script problem requiring scissors. One other question, with respect : why but two actors feigning French accents (with greater and lesser success), Suzette & George. From all or none would have been my call.

Acting pin-spots : This show to this reviewer results in a toss-up between Kirk Smith as Robert and Tess Degenstein as Suzette for laugh-grabs. Degenstein was coy, peasant-y sexless and then sexy grande in her l.b.d. doing an utterly drunken tango with Smith whose askew tie and half-out shirt were priceless touches. Smith gave Robert a range of wincing mincing flabbergastery that was stunning.

Todd Thomson was choice as the franticly discombobulated Bernard ever ad-libbing roles and rules and rationales to purposely confuse who was doing what to whom and why.

Who gonna like : Mostly junior and senior retirees in the crowd last night who giggled and chortled and outright guffawed from Moment 1 in the show. My normal dramatic preferences are (a) for serious sardonic Mamet theatre, generally, and (b) in contemporary comedy for such verbal spinnery as the Monty Python troupe perfected. Thus I imagined I would come away from Don't Dress with a warmth of enthusiasm that was decidedly less than luke. 

Not so. Not so indeed! These actors, each and all, tore into Robin Hawdon's translation of the Cimoletti original with unchecked verve and gusto and imagination and enthusiasm. I found myself laughing louder, longer and spasmodically with the rest of the crowd both to my surprise and to my utter delight! 

Particulars : Produced by Gateway Theatre in co-production with Thousand Islands Theatre [Gananoque, ON] and Western Canada Theatre [Kamloops]. Written by Marc Camoletti. Translated & Adapted by Robin Hawdon. At Gateway Theatre MainStage. Through April 23rd. Schedules & ticket information at or by phoning 604.270.1812.

Production crew : Original Director Ashlie Corcoran. Revival Director Heather Cant.  Set Designer Jung-Hye Kim.  Costume Designer Cindy Wiebe.  Lighting Designer Oz Weaver.  Sound Designer Doug Perry.  Technical Designer Patsy Tomkins.  Stage Manager Nicola Benedickson.  Assistant Stage Manager Angela Beaulieu.

Performer :  Krista Colosimo (Suzanne).  Tess Degenstein (Suzette).  Alison Deon (Jacqueline).  Beau Dixon (George).  Kirk Smith (Robert).  Todd Thomson (Bernard). 


No comments:

Post a Comment