Don't Dress for Dinner

  • Our critic's rating:
    April 1, 2012
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    (Review by Tulis McCall)

    Timing is everything, and the too bad part of the timing on this show is that there is already a British farce on Broadway doing a much better job of it - One Man, Two Guvnors.

    I believe it will also be compared to its older sister, Boeing Boeing, by the same author, which I never saw, but about which I heard nothing but fab comments.

    This is one of those old sexist comedies that may have played better in its original French. As adapted by Robert Hawdon, this play needs to be performed at near break-neck speed. If we are going to be subject to this sort of behavior then you better have it leap off the stage and set the house on fire. For this kind of comedy a slow simmer is not ideal. And that is what has happened here.

    The story takes place in 1960 in a Parisian suburb. Bernard (Adam James) is seen setting up (with a heavy slapstick hand) the final touches for a romantic weekend with his mistress just before his wife enters the living room. Jacqueline (Patricia Kalember) is off to see her mother, and Bernard can’t get her out of the house fast enough. While he fetches the car, Robert (Ben Daniels) phones to say he is just back from Kuala Lumpur and is about to pop in. This is news to Pamela who is having an affair with Robert who was the best man at Pamela and Bernard’s wedding. She calls her mother, feigns the flu, and the weekend is off to a new start.

    When Bernard hears of the change of plans he confesses his philandering to Robert. He is in love with a beautiful woman, a model named Suzanne, and she is on her way to the house for a tryst. The only solution is for Robert to claim Suzanne as his, which Robert does not want to do, else Jacqueline think him unfaithful to her. But friends are friends, and he agrees. After Bernard and Jacqueline leave to buy the groceries for the weekend, the next woman to show up is Suzette, the hired cook for the evening, Robert mistakes her for Suzanne, and there is a mildly funny exchange of words before this is straightened out, with Suzette asking for a cash bonus in exchange for the new duties demanded of her. Soon the infamous Suzanne (Jennifer Tilly) appears, and when all is revealed to her she is pressed into service as the cook in order to keep Jacqueline in the dark. She agrees, but only because she has no other plans for the weekend.

    So now the kids are in the oven and the cookies are on their way to school. We just have to sit back and watch the time bomb count down to the great reveal when Jacqueline is let in on the secret – but only one step at a time. And everyone gets their comeuppance – everyone that is except Suzett, who has been taking advantage of the situation, scooping more and more cash bonuses as those around her tie themselves in knots. In the funniest and best choreographed moment of the play, she even gets a sartorial makeover in 10 seconds flat.

    Spencer Kayden seems to have found a solid niche, but most of the cast is not on solid footing. And Jennifer Tilly almost seems to be in a different play altogether.

    Those around me were laughing loud and often, so this is not a show that will offend many. It has its funny moments, but it could have been so much more. Perhaps, as the cast gets steadier, they will figure out how to move this along at the tempo it deserves. Think speed of light. However, at the moment this is little more than harmless theatre. Too bad!

    "Has the stale flavor of an old TV dinner defrosted and microwaved."
    Charles Isherwood for NY Times

    "Modestly amusing. ... There are a few good chuckles, an inspired sight gag involving a costume (let’s leave it at that) and a delicious comic turn by Spencer Kayden... It all combines to goose things in the right direction."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "Despite all this frantic activity, this Roundabout show is a slog."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "It's like being served a tray of meager appetizers when you were expecting a full meal."
    David Sheward for Back Stage

    "There are few things in the theater more distressing than a labored farce."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "It’s affable entertainment with many funny moments, but not enough to disguise the mechanical structure and whiff of moldiness of its infidelity-interruptus plot."
    David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter

    "After working up this high-gloss version of Robin Hawdon's crafty adaptation at Chicago's Royal George Theater a few years ago, veteran helmer John Tillinger brings it in with an A-list design team and a cast that knows how to negotiate the sublimely silly conventions of classic farce."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Hollywood Reporter - Variety