The 1st Stage production of Don’t Dress for Dinner is the best dressed of them all. Seriously. The costumes by Cheryl Patton are the pop to the snap and crackle of the dialogue – ranging from the skin-tight, wild tattoo sleeves on Suzette the cook, to Bernard’s satin red pajama bottoms. And as the evening unfolds, the ladies unlayer into increasingly colorful and seductive attire. As accompaniment, Tobias Harding’s inventive set has an open, welcoming design with classy furniture befitting a French summer house: Persian rugs, leather footstools, good art on the walls. But we digress.
Don’t Dress for Dinner is Robin Hawdon’s English-language adaptation of Frenchman Marc Camoletti’s farce, Pyjama pour Six. The story is that Bernard’s wife, Jacqueline, is about to leave to visit her mother, and Bernard has arranged a weekend with his mistress, Suzanne. His friend Robert is also coming and will serve as cover. But wife Jacqueline is secretly having an affair with Robert and when she hears he’s on his way over, she decides to stay home. When Robert arrives, Bernard makes him pretend Suzanne is his girlfriend. One more thing: Bernard has ordered a catering cook for dinner that night. The cook’s name is Suzette. She arrives when Bernard and Jacqueline have gone into town to buy a few things, and Robert confuses Suzette the cook with Suzanne the lover. And the comedy of cover-ups begins.
Director Tom Prewitt keeps his cast in constant motion. This is an action comedy where physical movement, almost to the degree of slapstick, adds to the humor. The actors are lively and keep a good pace, with Robert (Joshua Dick) having great command of comic timing and movement.
There are several (probably feigned) foreign accents flowing in this piece. Bernard (Evan Crump) and Jacqueline (Katie Nigsch-Fairfax) speak British English; Robert has a French accent; Suzette (Liz Dutton) has an Irish accent; Suzanne (Jessica Shearer Wilson) seems to be Slavic; and I don’t know where George (Gil Hasty) hails from, other than Europe east of Germany. It adds to the fun.
Hawdon’s adaptation is verbally witty, and has a very old-timey sense to it, like something written in the 1930s. Actually, Camoletti released Pyjama pour Six in 1985, one of the two or three sequels to his 1962 smash hit Boeing, Boeing. (Bernard, Robert, and Jacqueline go way back.) Hawdon brought it across the Channel to London in 1991, where it ran for several years.
Camoletti (and this is not surprising since he is French with Italian heritage) created a classic commedia dell’arte work, with its pairs of switch-around lovers and the strong and sassy cook-servant. The problem here is the length. To carry that much buffoonery for over two hours, you need something in addition to beautiful design and smart, energetic delivery – the kind of magnetism that gets laughs from reading the New York City phone book.
Don’t Dress for Dinner plays through October 2nd, at 1st Stage in Tysons Corner – 1524 Spring Hill Road, in McLean, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 854-1856, or purchase them online.