‘Don’t Dress for Dinner’ at The British Players by Amanda Gunther

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS
Oh what tangled webs we weave when we practice to deceive. Shakespeare may have said it but he never said what would happen if you tried to untangle all those lies. A truly uproarious chaotic comedy done in true mistaken identity style, that’s what, as proved by The British Players production of Marc Camoletti’s Don’t Dress For Dinner. Directed by Chrish Kresge, this comic romp tangles together all the best elements of a farce while still maintaining a keen sense of high-brow humor. It’s a roaring good time for all if you can just keep up with all of the deceptions!

Set Designers Albert Coia and Mike Lewis set the stage with a cozy-like home in the northwest of Paris, hints of posh elegance adoring the walls in the form of lovely landscape paintings. Coia and Lewis keep the rustic touch of the home being a getaway house, a vacation spot of sorts, by keeping the furnishings simple yet classy. The old refurbished barn, as it’s mentioned numerous times, looks thoroughly settled in by the married couple and helps keep up the entertainment when the comedy kicks into gear.

The cast of 'Don't Dress for Dinner.' Photo courtesy of The British Players.
The cast of ‘Don’t Dress for Dinner.’ Photo courtesy of The British Players.

Costume Designers Jamie Breckenridge and Joan Roseboom keep things simple, except when true luxury is meant to be on display. Breckenridge and Roseboom supply a rather lavish fur coat for the mistress and a rather clever costume switch to turn the cook from French Maid into stunning party guest in a quick on-stage flash. The suave coat is only outdone by the sparkling evening gown with matching tiara that they provide for the mistress, making her simply exquisite looking when she arrives for dinner.

Director Chrish Kresge and Fight Choreographer Brian Dettling have some pacing problems. The mock fighting, what little there is in the second act, has a sluggish pace, almost mime-like as you watch the action happen with some awkward pauses before the reactions and responses occur. The first act drags slightly as well, taking a while to gain the momentum of the play’s overall hilarity. But these pacing issues aside – Don’t Dress for Dinner makes for a great laughable comedy with some rich vibrant characters that will keep you chortling.

No matter how brief his cameo, George (Michael Abendshein) causes quite the commotion with his unexpected arrival at the end of the show. I won’t ruin it for you— but when he shows up, hang onto your hats because it all hits the fan from there. Abendshein plays a rather larger than life character and his sense of timing— comic or otherwise— is impeccable adding yet another layer of complicated hilarious deception to this production.

The men in this production have a great sense of comic timing. Bernard (Peter Harrold) and Robert (Colin Davies) both being randy old gents let their sexual nature drive the whole show, which makes for one uproarious good time. Harold has an uncanny ability to slip from complete calm composure in front of his wife to spastically nervous when the plans start to shift about and tumble downhill. The natural way which he fumbles about through his lines when trying to convince his wife of certain things with the quirky little asides meant to allow the audience to hear his inner monologue are quite endearing to the comic aspect of this production.

Davies character is richly devious and he has scandal written all over him from the moment he arrives. His physical approach to the character makes him even more sordid, between the way he simply can’t keep his hands off Jacqueline and the way he saunters about the stage, his devious thoughts ripe in his stance. When Davies and Harrold get into it, first comically trying to create a cover-up and then later as mortal enemies the laughs are non-stop, both gentleman having a profound sense of how to drive a hysterical response from the other.

For as circuitous and hilarious as the men prove to be, the three ladies of this performance blow the audience away with their shenanigans. Arriving on the scene as the mistress turned cook is Suzanne (Vanessa Terzaghi). Her haughty personality is tempered with a seductive posture but in moments flat she transforms into the dowdy servant, pouty and pissy to be where she is, with unforgettable facial expressions that exponentially display just exactly how she feels inside. And when things take a turn in the second act, her camaraderie with Jacqueline is sheer comic genius.

Colin Davies and Peter Harrold. Photo courtesy of The British Players.
Colin Davies and Peter Harrold. Photo courtesy of The British Players.

Jacqueline (Kathryn Browning) is the stone of promiscuous scandal in this production. Her simple airs toward her husband pale by comparison to the way she flings herself about to her lover. But Browning shows her true colors when everything starts to break down, reminding us that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Even her posture goes rigid as she grows livid over the situation, and her brisk sense of revenge comes tumbling out as comedic perfection.

But the award-winning artist here is Anne VanDercook playing the cook-turned- mistress turned niece and then some. VanDercook adapts a thick French accent with slightly broken English to her character which makes her presence on the stage that much more noticeable and hilarious. She carries such an exasperation in her character, vocally, physically, especially in her responses to the situations that seem to erupt all around her. VanDercook makes this production a true riotous farce and the shenanigans she gets up to are nothing short of epic.

Pay close attention to Don’t Dress for Dinner or you’ll miss all the hilarity as this tangled web of innocent deception unravels just before dinner is served.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.

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Don’t Dress For Dinner plays through March 24, 2013 at the Kensington Town Hall — 3710 Mitchell Street, in Kensington, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 875-8544, or purchase them online.