‘Don’t Dress for Dinner’ at Old Opera House Theatre Company

Directed by Steven Brewer and written by Marc Camoletti (adapted by Robin Hawdon), Don’t Dress for Dinner at the Old Opera House Theatre Company is a frantic farce which left the audience in stitches. Though the plot is comically intended to be convoluted, it is actually fairly easy to follow and extremely hilarious due to the clever physical blocking.

Alan Harner and Charlie Perkins. Photo by Adam Blackstock.
Alan Harner and Charlie Perkins. Photo by Adam Blackstock.

The story all occurs over the course of one evening, present day, in a chic countryside home in France. Bernard and Jacqueline are a seemingly happy married couple….. other than the fact that they both have lovers. Bernard has invited his mistress over for the weekend while his wife, Jacqueline, is out of town, and invited his best friend, Robert, along for a fool-proof alibi. Unknown to Bernard, Robert and Jacqueline are actually lovers, so Jacqueline decides she won’t be going out of town after all. Panic-stricken, Bernard concocts the idea that when his mistress shows up, she will pretend to be Robert’s mistress instead… until the gorgeous cook Robert had hired earlier from an upscale catering company arrives earlier than expected and now she must pretend to be Robert’s mistress… so when the mistress shows up, she actually has to pretend to be the cook… and Bernard now has to pretend he doesn’t recognize his mistress now disguised as the cook… until Jacqueline suspects Bernard of having an affair with the cook who is masquerading as Robert’s mistress… Got all that?

The small ensemble cast does a fantastic job of rapidly balancing the mistaken identities and firing off hilarious one liners.

As the central couple in the story, Charlie Perkins as Bernard and Christine Brewer as Jacqueline had the greatest amount of stage time and physical comedy to master, and both actors were brilliant in their respective roles. Charlie Perkins as Bernard was perfectly cast, as the supposed mastermind behind the scheme which quickly falls apart. His nervous, frenetic energy, and incredible range of voices fueled most of the comedy, similar to a Max Bialystock-esque character in The Producers. Brewer was delightfully chilly and pristine as Jacqueline and her asides and extraordinary facial expressions provided some of the best moments in the comedy.

As best friend and often time the straight man in the comedic situations, Alan Harner as Robert was adorably dorky and hilarious. He showed a great versatility and knack for his uptight, socially awkward character who gradually loosens up throughout the course of the show, reminiscent of a cross between Danny Kaye and Donald O’Conner. Harner’s rapid-fire patter monologue in Act II, attempting to explain and summarize the events of the evening, nearly stopped the show and received a well deserved round of applause.

Kelly Pannill provided a perfect contrast as the agency cook, Suzette, who is forced to play the mistress and a variety of other alibis as the evening continues. Pannill was both bubbly, sweet and excellently sarcastic and crass as the character grew more and more frustrated. She and Harner were delightful in their physical comedy scenes together.

Will Heyser in a small cameo role as George was incredible. At well over six feet tall, he towers over the rest of the cast members, making his dim-witted character all the more intimidating. Tia B. Davis as the actual mistress, Suzanne, was wonderfully brazen and slightly ditzy. Her bits masquerading as the chef who has no idea how to cook were hysterical and she had a wonderful moment at the end of Act I.

Though many sight gags and jokes were repeated throughout the show, they did not grow stale. Quite the contrary, every time a gag was repeated, it became more and more outrageous and even funnier with each re-occurrence. The physical comedy and blocking in the show were extraordinary. An excellent moment in the production occurred during a phone conversation where both Perkins and Harner are in the room and become entangled in the phone cord after attempting a tug-of-war, leaving the audience howling with laughter. Natural height differences between the actors were also used to great effect. As Perkins was the shortest member of the cast, it led to moments of pure comedic gold, especially in some scenes with his mistress, and the obvious height differences were hysterical in sequences where all three of the male actors were onstage at the same time.

Typical for farces, the action all takes place in a one-room set with multiple doors. Designed by Scott Tatina, the set is a beautifully rustic one-room French cottage, with lovely attention to detail in the painting and aesthetic design. Costumes, designed by Jen George, were extremely elegant and appropriate to each character’s personality. An exceedingly brilliant moment occurred during a costume change in Act I, where the men transformed the cook’s standard waitress uniform into a sexy little black evening gown entirely onstage. Lights, designed by Will Heyser, were very simple so as not to distract from the action, though a nice effect was used in Act II where the lights in the cottage were supposed to have been turned out, but the action was all clearly visible onstage for the audience.

Christine Brewer and Tia B. Davis. Photo by Adam Blackstock.
Christine Brewer and Tia B. Davis. Photo by Adam Blackstock.

Running Time: Two and one-half hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

Don’t Dress for Dinner plays through February 15, 2015, at the Old Opera House Theatre Company – 204 North George Street, in Charles Town, West Virginia. For tickets, call the box office at (304) 725-4420.

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