Your reaction may be the same as director Gigi Fusco Meese’s exclamation in her program notes– “How lucky we are to experience live theater!” – after attending her energetic, punchy and thoroughly delightful production of Don’t Dress for Dinner at the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage theatre through Dec. 3.
Set in a converted French farmhouse in the 1960s, the play unfolds over the course of a hilariously convoluted and eventful evening for Bernard (Gregory Cohen), his wife Jacqueline (Yvonne Robertson) and Bernard’s friend Robert (Cort Huckabone). Add two Suzies to the mix– Suzette (Victoria Serra) and Suzanne (Della Lisi)– and, like the countless cocktails poured during the evening, a delicate, potentially volatile yet decidedly tipsy balance is somehow achieved, eliciting giggles galore.
At the heart of the farce is Bernard’s desire to spend an amorous weekend with his mistress at home while Jacqueline is away visiting her mother. As an alibi, he invites Robert, too, not realizing that this will inspire Jacqueline to want to stay as well (d’oh!). Soon the young female cook who was hired for the evening arrives, as does Bernard’s mistress, and the sauce velouté literally gets confused with the raspberry pavlova as friends, lovers and relations strive to maintain their secrets while weaving around the living room in a complicated waltz of infidelity and innuendo.
Witty dialogue full of slips of the tongue and carefully constructed conceits bounce from character to character, who juggle more such balls in the air than even they can count. That hilarity is heightened by physical comedy, with characters running up and down stairs to various bedrooms and in and out of the kitchen, and drenching each other with soda water. The subject of the play definitely has an adult edge, like Robert’s potent triple vodka, but with the giddy spirit of Suzette’s numerous Cointreau frappes.
The five main actors deliver their rapid-fire lines impeccably and interact comfortably. Gregory Cohen is disarmingly charming as adulterer Bernard, with Yvonne Robertson playing perfectly the refined and proper (though not above her own dalliances) Jacqueline. Cort Huckabone convincingly embodies the somewhat clueless and variable Robert, and Della Lisi plays va-va-voom Suzanne with confidence. Victoria Serra, however, is exceptionally natural and compelling in the role of Suzette, throwing herself completely into her feisty role, right down to her very authentic sounding French accent. The trick of her transforming dress (brilliantly designed by Donna Fritsche) is executed without a hitch by Cohen and Huckabone and carried off with grace by Serra herself. Mitchell Nunn makes a late appearance as the brusque sixth character George, who further entangles the situation before initiating its resolution.
Don’t Dress for Dinner was originally a French play by Marc Camoletti (titled Pyjamas Pour Six) that was then translated and adapted into English by Robin Hawdon and first performed in London in 1991 with its current title. Whether dressed for dinner or bedtime, you will be amused by the play’s wit and amazed by the intricacies of deception and pretense that the actors pull off so well. ✦
Don’t Dress for Dinner continues at the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., through Dec. 3, with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $20 to $24. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 494-1014 or visit lbplayhouse.org.