It pays to tell the truth, but deception rules in the Providence Players production of Marc Camoletti’s Don’t Dress for Dinner. Co-directors Beth Gilles-Whitehead and David Whitehead have staged an energetic show that keeps smiles, giggles, and laughter flowing throughout.
Middle-aged and married, Bernard prepares for a romantic weekend with his chic mistress in his cozy farmhouse. He’s hired a chef to prepare a gourmet meal, and he’s invited his closest friend, Robert. When Robert arrives, he is perplexed as to why Bernard extended the invitation, and Jacqueline and Robert are revealed to be secretly in love.
Chaos ensues when it turns out Jacqueline won’t be leaving for the weekend, and the mistress shows up and must pretend to be the cook, and the cook has to pretend to be Robert’s lover. The alibis, decoy relationships, and outright fibs pile up like a shaky house of cards. One character exclaims, “I’ve forgotten how many lovers there are!”
Helen Hayes–nominated Bruce Alan Rauscher used every acting tool in his portrayal of Robert. Much of his physical comedy came from his face, and his verbal comic timing was expert. I loved the staccato paraverbals that he added to his lines. His character often had to either summarize the goings on or come up with a quick alibi. Rauscher played a demanding role.
As Bernard, David Wright, creator of the Last Ham Standing improv troupe, rode a comedic seesaw with Rauscher; their bickering scenes made them a great comedy duo. Wright also had many funny scenes with Jayne L. Victor, who played his wife, Jacqueline. I liked the acidity Victor hissed into her lines when she suspiciously drilled Bernard on what was really going on.
Good-natured but a bit mercenary is how I would describe Suzette, the cook, played by Keely Sullivan den Bergh (the understudy is Eileen Copas). Suzette repeatedly hit Bernard and Robert up for cash for each outlandish ruse they came up with.
Romantic farces usually have mistresses, and Ann Brodnax played the part of Suzanne well. (There was much playing with the similarity of the names Suzette and Suzanne.) Many of the jokes were at her expense—a cook she was not.
Gene Downing, a spoken word artist, played George, Suzette’s jealous husband. It seems as though every farce like this involves people running around, hiding behind, or falling on couches, and Downing had a scene involving some of that.
Music Designer John Smith had an impressive string of theme-appropriate songs that he played during, before, and after the show—songs like “Back Stabbers” by The O’Jays, “Rumor Has It” by Adele, and “Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul.
Costume Designer Jenny Libster worked overtime because of the number of times a character either got showered with water or had to assume an identity in the show. Her choices accentuated the characters; she dressed Robert, a middle-aged accountant, staidly, but she dressed Suzanne and Suzette flashily.
Ingrid and Patrick David designed and constructed a set that did what it needed to; it was impressive without overshadowing the performers. It also left them plenty of space to consume.
Don’t Dress for Dinner will gnaw on your funny bone. It is a deliciously funny show that you should consume forthwith!
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
Don’t Dress for Dinner plays through June 24, 2023, presented by Providence Players of Fairfax, performing at the James Lee Community Center Theater at 2855 Annandale Road, Falls Church, VA. Tickets cost $21, with a $3 discount for seniors and students, and are available for purchase online, by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), by calling (703) 425-6782, or in person at the box office starting 30 minutes prior to the show.
COVID Safety: Masks are no longer required. For complete protocols, check online.
Don’t Dress for Dinner
By Marc Camoletti
Bernard: David Wright
Jacqueline: Jayne L. Victor
Robert: Bruce Alan Rauscher
Suzanne: Ann Brodnax
Suzette: Keely Sullivan den Bergh (Eileen Copas understudy)
George: Gene Downing
Co-Directors: Beth Gilles-Whitehead, David Whitehead
Set Design: Ingrid David, Patrick David
Costume Design: Jenny Libster
Music: John Smith
Properties: Michael Donahue, Robbie Snow, Beth Gilles-Whitehead
Hair and Makeup: Robbie Snow