Review: 'Don't Dress for Dinner' is limp farce

April 27, 2012 • Entertainment

In this theater image released by Boneau/Bryan-Brown, Jennifer Tilly, left, Ben Daniels, center, and Spencer Kayden are shown in a scene from the Roundabout Theatre Company’s “Don’t Dress for Dinner,” in New York. (AP Pho[auth] to/Boneau/Bryan-Brown, Joan Marcus)

NEW YORK (AP) — Maybe there’s some confusion about what’s really going on at “Don’t Dress for Dinner.” It’s really quite simple. Just listen to one character named Robert explain it to his lover, who is angry her husband Bernie is cheating on her:

“We can’t blame Bernie for having a lover who was pretending to be my lover so you wouldn’t know she was his lover, while all the time I was your lover pretending to be her lover so that he wouldn’t know you had a lover. Especially when his real lover was all the time pretending to be — to be …”

“Pretending to be what?” asks his lover.

“I’ve lost track of all the lovers,” replies Robert.

You might, too, in the Broadway premiere of Marc Camoletti’s farce, which is in the same zany vein as his “Boeing-Boeing” but much, much limper. It opened Thursday at the American Airlines Theatre under the direction of John Tillinger with its madcap forced and sparks missing.

Set in a 1960 French country home, the increasingly mangled plot centers on a married man (Adam James) who is planning a romantic tryst with his lover (Jennifer Tilly) while his wife (Patricia Kalember) is off visiting her mom.

His plans go awry — naturally — when his wife gets wind of the fact that his best friend (Ben Daniels) is also coming to act as cover for the tryst. But, unbeknownst to the husband, his wife is also having an affair with the best friend. Add an unsuspecting caterer (Spencer Kayden) to the mix, and craziness ensues. Or at least that’s what supposed to happen.

“It’s not so much a mess as a dirty great pile of farmyard poo-poo!” says the best friend about the whole affair. He might as well be talking about the affair on stage, too.

It’s tired, warmed-over farce that involves seltzer spraying, imaginary insects, boob jokes, loads of alcohol, people jumping over sofas, and the cast running around in dressing gowns. It’s all very predictable and really not funny.

“Don’t Dress for Dinner,” which is adapted by Robin Hawdon, opened in Paris in 1987, made its premiere in London in 1991 and now comes to New York thanks to the Roundabout Theatre Company.

Kayden, who plays the caterer-turned-guest-turned-lover-turned-niece, steals the show with her over-the-top French accent and deadpan response to having to increasingly handle more and more twists from this loony bunch.

“I should get an Oscar for this!” she says.

Steady on, girl.

There are some nifty bits, like when the two men remake her outfit so she goes from servant to glamorous guest in a few moves is wonderful, but they’re few and far between. And William Ivey Long delivers with sumptuous costumes: bespoke striped suits, tuxes, a fur coat, French maid outfits, dinner gowns, and, yes, dressing gowns that reek of wealth and high thread counts.

But if you’re in the mood for a European farce, a better one is “One Man, Two Guvnors,” a play that seems to have swiped all the manic humor and good cheer from this one. If that sounds a bit like cheating on your wife, then how very appropriate.

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