Let’s say you’re a married man. Let’s say you’re a married man with a mistress. Let’s say you’d like nothing more than to spend a romantic weekend with said mistress in the renovated farmhouse you call home. You’d send the wife off for a visit with Mommy and invite your best friend over to throw the missus off the scent, right?

Right … but what if your wife and that best of friends happened to be secret lovers and she thought your chum’s weekend visit would be the perfect opportunity for the two of them to engage in a bit of extramarital hanky-panky? She’d make a quick phone call to cancel plans with mother, and before you knew it, there’d be two sets of adulterous lovers under the same roof with the Cordon Bleu cook you’d hired to cater the weekend making it Five’s A Crowd.

If you think this sounds like the perfect set-up for a door-slamming, mistaken identity-filled French farce, you’d be absolutely right, since this is precisely how Marc “Boeing-Boeing” Camoletti sets up Don’t Dress For Dinner, the hilarious (and pitch-perfect) latest from Long Beach’s International City Theatre.

Don't-Dress-For-Dinner_2 Helming the project is comedy director extraordinaire Todd Nielsen, once again displaying his mastery of farce as he did in ICT’s How The Other Half Loves and the Norris’s No Sex Please, We’re British—and we in the audience reap the benefits of his expertise.

To begin with, Nielsen makes married couple Bernard and Jacqueline (Greg Derelian and Amie Farrell) and their respective mistress and lover Robert and Suzanne (Matthew Wrather and Afton Quast) British, which gives them just the right accent to make Robin Howdon’s West End adaptation ring true even as their morals remain saucily French.

As for Suzette, the aforementioned Cordon Blue cuisinière, Nielsen has Karen Jean Olds play her as French as they get, the cook’s accent français (just over the top enough) being but one of the reasons that Olds steals le show. (It helps that Camoletti gives her the play’s scene-stealingest part, one that gets ever more hilarious as Suzette’s long blonde hair comes down and her prim-and-proper kitchen garb gives way to a très sexy “little black dress.”)

In lesser hands than those of Nielsen and his crackerjack cast (completed by the eleventh-hour arrival of Michael Cusimano as George), Don’t Dress For Dinner could end up either over or under-played and Camoletti’s tasty French soufflé could fall flat.

Don't-Dress-For-Dinner_4 Fortunately, Nielsen and company know exactly when to play it big and when to play it authentic. There are physical comedy bits that will have you in stitches (Nielsen makes great use of a very long phone cord). At the same time, Derelian and Farrell make us believe that Bernard and Jacqueline are a real couple who are either made for each other or deserve one another depending on your point of view.

It’s a treat for ICT regulars to see Derelian (the rough, tough, blue-collar Michael of last year’s God Of Carnage) and Farrell (the modern-day Lady Macbeth of 2009’s Bright Ideas) in farcical mode, and they are both perfectly marvelous. So are the luscious Quast and physical comedy master Wrather, the fab foursome becoming ever funnier as Camoletti’s script has things spinning ever more out of control.

Don't-Dress-For-Dinner_5 Fresh off his multi-character Scenie-winning turn in the Nielsen-directed The 39 Steps, Cusimano makes George absolutely worth the wait, and if I were to give away anything more (the program gives away too much already), I’d be a very naughty reviewer.

Finally, there is the wow-worthy Olds, whose steadily oomphier performance is worth the price of admission simply to behold.

Don't-Dress-For-Dinner_6 Not surprisingly, ICT delivers once more in the design department, from scenic designer JR Bruce’s rustic/sophisticated country house to Donna Ruzika’s as-always accomplished lighting design. Resident sound designer Dave Mickey gives the proceedings a groovy ‘60s soundtrack (Jack Jones’ “Wives And Lovers,” Eydie Gorme’s “Blame It On The Bossa Nova,” Burt Bacharach’s “The Look Of Love”) while resident properties designers Patty, Gordon, and Christopher Briles’ assorted ‘60s paraphernalia deserve kudos as well. Resident hair and wig designer gives the three women just the right ‘60s dos, with Quast’s Jackie Kennedy-as-a-blonde flip pure perfection, and her own hair to boot.

Don't-Dress-For-Dinner_1 Last but not least, there’s resident costume designer Kim DeShazo’s bevy of sophisticated weekend wear, highlighted by multiple pairs of silk pjs (the original French title was Pyjamas Pour Six) and a maid’s uniform that does such amazing things, it must be beheld to be believed.

caryn desai is producer/artistic director. Pat Loeb is production stage manager and Bradley Zipser assistant stage manager. Michael Donovan is resident casting director and Richie Ferris casting assistant.

International City Theatre’s upcoming 2014 season looks to be one of their best ever. (Having seen Other Desert Cities, Trying, and Glorious! before, I can assure you I’ll be back to see them again on the ICT stage, and Let’s Misbehave and Flyin’ West sound amazing as well.)

In the meantime, Don’t Dress For Dinner ends their 2013 season on a hilariously high note indeed.

International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach.

–Steven Stanley
October 11, 2013
Photos: Suzanne Mapes

Tags: , ,

Comments are closed.