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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Theatre review: Don’t Dress for Dinner never quite soars

In 2013, Marc Comoletti’s Boeing-Boeing was on my list of the best plays in Vancouver that year. With that memory still very much alive in my mind, there were huge expectations for his follow-up, Don’t Dress for Dinner. But while there is a nice physicality to the piece, which closes out the season at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre, this collection of slamming doors, stolen kisses and mistaken identities doesn’t quite soar as high as its predecessor.

Translated from its original French by Robin Hawdon and set in the 1960s, Don’t Dress for Dinner has all the necessary ingredients for the classic bedroom farce as it tells the story of Bernard, who has secretly arranged for his mistress, Suzanne, to join him while his wife is away.

Giddy with excitement, Bernard’s best friend Robert puts a wrench into the plans by unexpectedly turning up. Discovering that Robert is coming, Bernard’s wife cancels her plans by faking illness. You see, she and Robert have been having their own secret affair, and she is equally as giddy at the possibility of her own tryst that weekend.

Requiring a reason to explain Suzanne’s arrival, Bernard convinces Robert to claim her as his mistress. To complicate things further, Robert mistakenly takes the hired cook, Suzette, for Suzanne. For a few francs, the cook spends the evening pretending to be Robert’s mistress, plus a slew of other characters that are created as the intricacies of the lies begin to unravel. As a result, it is now up to Suzanne to play the role of cook.

If it all sounds a little complicated, it really isn’t, as Comoletti/Hawdon keeps the zaniness neatly in order. And zaniness does ensue, including some wonderful physical performances from Todd Thomson and Kirk Smith, as the best friends.

Thomson rolls with the punches when, in one of the funniest unplanned bits of the evening, a doorknob comes off in his hand early in act one. One can only imagine the terror conjured in the minds of the actors at the thought of a bedroom farce without the ability to slam one of the doors shut.

Smith is particularly good in the physical comedy department, but at times he gets so caught up (sometimes quite literally) in what he is doing that his words become virtually impossible to decipher. Not that we’re here for the dialogue mind you, but with its many moving parts it feels that we were sometimes missing parts of the ever-changing plot.

As Bernard’s wife, Alison Deon is nicely balanced between the anticipation of her own assignation, and seething at the thought her husband having an affair.  Tess Degenstein puts on the fake Parisian accent as easily as she does the form fitting cocktail dress that is magically created from her skimpy cook/maid uniform.

Given this cast has been together as long as it has – this is the third and final outing in a co-production with Western Canada Theatre and Thousand Island Playhouse – it was surprising to see as much dialogue thrown away under the audience laughter. There were many moments in the first act as well where the cast were speaking so quietly it was near impossible to hear.

Jung-Hye Kim’s set contains the appropriate number of doors to slam, but it doesn’t quite have the sophisticated 1960s vibe of Boeing-Boeing. It is a marvel though in the realization that the set, fake wood beams and all, has traveled thousands of miles.  Oz Weaver’s lighting is appropriately cheerful, and while Cindy Wiebe dresses Deon and Smith in period appropriate costumes, there are fewer hints to the time with the others.

By the end of Don’t Dress for Dinner most of its characters find themselves in their pyjamas – the original French title was Pyjamas Pour Six after all – but that image only had me pining more for the air hostess uniforms from the superior Boeing-Boeing.

Don’t Dress for Dinner by Marc Camoletti. Adapted by Robin Hawden. Originally directed by Ashlie Corcoran. Revival direction by Heather Cant. A Gateway Theatre co-production with Thousand Islands Playhouse and Western Canada Theatre. On stage at Gateway Theatre (6500 Gilbert Rd, Richmond) until April 23. Visit for tickets and information.

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