Showing at the Gateway Theatre, Don’t Dress For Dinner is a frantic, hilarious comedy about infidelity and an ever growing web of deception, at an unfortunate dinner party outside of Paris.
Set in a home whose styling comes straight out of Mad Men, the play focuses on Bernardo (Todd Thomson), a middle aged married man who is doing everything in his power to get his wife, Jacqueline (Alison Deon), out of the house for the weekend. The plan quickly fails and he finds himself having to cover for the arrival of an old friend from out of town, Robert (Kirk Smith), the cook, Suzette (Tess Degenstein), and his mistress, Suzanne (Krista Colosimo).
What ensues is a chaotic story, where lies, miscommunication and overlapping motivations all compound into frantic madness which stems from different characters secretly sleeping with each other.
The plot follows a structure which will be familiar to many, but it does not matter, since the execution soon makes these similarities irrelevant. The play is a success, thanks to fast, fluent dialogue and a group of actors who own their roles. Bernardo is the quick-talking alpha male. Robert is a meek, easily manipulated sort of man, who is helplessly swept up in Bernardo’s schemes. Jacqueline is suspicious at every turn and Suzanne is a upper-class woman just trying to hide her purpose in visiting Bernardo.
All of the actors carry off their performance with confidence and gusto. There is an immense amount of physicality to everything, especially the interactions between Bernardo and Robert, which has them rolling on the floor and falling over furniture to great comedic effect. However, the real star of the show is Tess Degenstein, who owns every scene as the cook. Her character treats every strange and ridiculous event with a kind of sarcastic ease and enjoyment, making what the other characters are going through seem all the more ridiculous.
This is a play that is comfortable with its own insanity. Once or twice the comedic acting came a little close to overacting, though not often enough to be problematic. In addition, Bernardo’s mistress sometimes felt a little underutilized, existing more as a pawn to motivate plot than a character who contributed greatly to the madness. Other than those minor complaints though, the play was immensely enjoyable. The moment it seemed that the plot could not reach new levels of madness, it surpassed them and delivered another chaotic scene of fast-talking craziness.
Don’t Dress For Dinner will be showing at the Gateway Theatre until April 23. Tickets are available online.