Stacie Martin McCutcheon, George Robert Bailey, Leigh Ann Barcellona,
Leila Toba, Rob Tunnell, & Drew Spurrier in Don’t Dress for Dinner.
Don’t Dress For Dinner
By Marc Camoletti & Robin Hawdon
Directed by George Robert Bailey
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved
Farce; true farce, has a solid tradition in French theatre and films, and this play written by Marc Camoletti, the same playwright who wrote Boeing Boeing, ran for more than 2 years in Paris. The English translation by Robin Hawdon has not been quite as successful, but it stands as a tightly constructed comedy machine that stretches credulity with a knowing wink.
Bernard and Jacqueline (George Robert Bailey and Leigh Ann Barcellona) are married and spending time in their converted-barn country house outside of Paris. Jacqueline is about to leave to spend the weekend with her mother when she discovers a planned secret visit from Bernard’s best friend, Robert (Drew Spurrier), who we soon learn is having an affair with Jacqueline. Not surprisingly, Jacqueline cancels her trip. After Bernard reveals to Robert that his visit was meant to cover his own affair, a cook named Suzette arrives (Leila Toba) and Bernard’s mistress Suzanne (Stacie Martin McCutcheon) soon follows. It may sound like I am giving too much away, but the confusion is just getting started.
This kind of plotting can be needlessly complicated, and one of the charms of the text is that it gets a little meta in its self-awareness, creating several expository moments where the characters’ own attempt to synopsize events further emphasizes the absurdity of the whole thing, although at times it feels a bit much.
So, as with any farce, we rely on the staging and performance to really sell the action. The title derives from a series of slapstick moments that require costume changes, the most ingenious of which involve Bernard and Robert partially disrobing Suzette and transforming her conservative cook’s uniform into a sexy, Little Black Dress in an instant. It was a bravura bit of business that earned its own round of applause.
Leila Toba’s performance is key in that Suzette changes more dramatically then any of the other characters. Ms. Toba manages a fair, burlesque French accent, (curiously for a play set in France, the only attempt at such) although she slipped at some moments into something closer to a mock, upper crust British dialect. She also over plays her drunkenness (an easy and common mistake in community theatre), but, still and all, she, more than any other cast member, makes the farce play. It is a risky performance, but it pays off. Her every moment onstage displays good energy, assured physicality, and resourcefulness, and her transformation is striking.
The rest of the cast acquits themselves well enough. It is perhaps no surprise that director Bailey brings intention and timing to his delivery, and Stacie Martin McCutcheon seems to know what she’s about onstage, displaying confidence and intention throughout. Leigh Ann Barcellona also was not short on confidence, although a more subtle touch would have been welcome in her work. Her best scenes come later, particularly in unexpected moments of bonding with Ms. McCutcheon. Drew Spurrier was struggling some with lines and cues on opening night, but I liked his bemused detachment and moments of awakened passion. Rob Tunnell arrives very late in the story and has the briefest time onstage, and his inexperience was evident, but he was game and got the job done.
So many characters engaged in subterfuge for their own selfish purposes can be off-putting, but as director, Mr. Bailey helps establish an innocence or naiveté for this group that allows the audience to empathize. It paves the way for laughter that came in good supply on opening night.
Don’t Dress For Dinner
September 17 – 27, 2015
Little Colonel Playhouse
302 Mount Mercy Drive
Pewee Valley, Kentucky 400
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.