What does it take to create the perfect farce? For starters, a top-notch cast. Secondly, a dynamic set. Above all, the show must be fast-paced. The frenetic energy necessary to keep a farce alive is hard to create and even harder to maintain. Providence Players of Fairfax has hit the mark on all accounts and has gone above and beyond with “Don’t Dress for Dinner” by Marc Camoletti and adapted by Robin Hawdon. The production is nearly flawless.
The production is nearly flawless…hilarious, top-notch…
Married couple Bernard and Jacqueline are preparing for Jacqueline’s departure when the phone rings. Jacqueline answers it and we are introduced to Robert, Bernard’s good friend from the city who will be arriving shortly to spend the weekend with Bernard. The phone call between Robert and Jacqueline clues the audience into the boundless affection Jacqueline has for Robert—they are having an affair. Jacqueline was initially planning on caring for her ailing mother but when Robert tells her that he will be staying in the couple’s house, she decides to remain home so she can see him. What she doesn’t realize is that Bernard is having an affair of his own. As the action of the play begins to ramp up, more secrets come out and we realize that all is not as it seems.
This uproarious script is a director’s dream and co-directors Beth Gilles-Whitehead and David Whitehead took full advantage of all textual nuances. Every joke landed and every double-entendre was explored. Fight director Michael Donahue put together some very nice gags, from actors climbing all over each other to soaking Bernard’s shirt three separate times. There are plenty of falls in this show and the squeaky-clean, fight choreography allows for a beautifully accessorized set. Looser choreography may have led to anxiety for the actors from the audience, but Donahue made sure to keep things simple and effective.
The concept for the set was crystal clear. Much praise goes to Ingrid David and Patrick David for creating a feast for the eyes. Bernard and Jaqueline’s barnyard-chic parlor is absolutely to die for, complete with a full bar upstage right. The working soda maker was a lovely surprise when Bernard was making drinks, and that sort of onstage business allows the actors to play with their comedic timing. The set had an abundance of levels and the staging ensured that these were an asset as opposed to an obstacle. The staircase up to Bernard and Jacqueline’s room was a good addition, and any action that took place there added layers and believability.
The cast is in excellent form and every actor brings something special to “Don’t Dress for Dinner.” Gene Downing brings a strong energy to the part of George and acts as an anchor at the end of Act Two. Ann Brodnax and Keely Sullivan den Burgh as Suzanne and Suzette, respectively, are masters of their craft and both actors sparkle onstage. Brodnax makes running in stilettos look easy as she flits across the stage at warp speed, and den Burgh’s energy is dynamic and charming. Jayne L. Victor as Jacqueline lands somewhere between Queen Elizabeth II and Bette Davis—both graceful and terrifying. Props to costume designer Jenny Libster for capturing Jacqueline’s essence with that shimmery purple evening gown. It was an inspired choice. Finally, directors Gilles-Whitehead and Whitehead must be applauded for casting David Wright as Bernard and Bruce Alan Rauscher as Robert. They are a match made in comedy heaven and it was truly a pleasure to watch them work. When Rasucher was up, Wright was down. When Wright was high, Rauscher was low. Both actors possess an acting sixth sense, something that can only be developed from existing in show business for a long time— being a generous scene partner. Every moment was so specific and every bit was so thoroughly fleshed out, it was almost difficult to decide on which actor to focus. Hopefully, “The Odd Couple” starring Rasucher and Wright is in the works. Congratulations to the cast and crew of “Don’t Dress for Dinner” for a hilarious, top-notch production.
Running Time: Two hours plus a 15-minute intermission.
Advisory: This play contains suggested sexual situations and adult content but no strong language.
“Don’t Dress for Dinner” runs through June 24, 2023 presented by Providence Players of Fairfax at the James Lee Community Center Theater, 2855 Annandale Road, Falls Church VA, 22042. For more information and tickets, call the Box Office at 703-435-6782 or go online.