Marc Camoletti is not a familiar name to the majority of L.A. theatregoers despite a highly successful career in France spanning 40 plays, one of which, “Boeing-Boeing” has earned mention in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most performed French language play worldwide”.
If known at all to American audiences it would be through the 1965 film version of “Boeing-Boeing” starring Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis, which kinda makes oblivion far more appealing. “Don’t Dress for Dinner” was considered by Camoletti as a sequel to “Boeing-Boeing” and in fact employs pretty much the same plotting. The play feels rather dated in both language and premise and on its own merits would rate on the same level as a really, really good episode of The Golden Girls.
Fortunately ITC brings to the evening a professional and talented pool of artists both on stage and backstage that could lift an evening of Rod McKuen poetry to the level of haute culture.
The cast themselves are more than up to the material; in fact they’re light years beyond it. Greg Deralian is Bernard, the philandering husband whose eager libido sets the whole business in motion. He is one of those rare creatures, a big man who moves with amazing gracefulness which makes him a delight to watch on stage. Amie Farrell as Jacqueline, Bernard’s long suffering wife can shift gears from sex kitten to Gallic harpy with admirable adroitness. At the top of the play Jacqueline is readying to spend a weekend at her mother’s, but is just a little apprehensive over leaving Bernard on his own. Not to worry, Bernard reassures her, for he won’t be on his own. Robert, his best friend (Matthew Wrather) is coming out from the city so that the boys can kick back and catch up on old times. Why, Bernard even hired a cook (Karen Jeans Olds as Suzette the traveling chef de cuisine) to come and prepare their evening meal so they probably won’t be setting foot outside the cottage at all.
What Bernard doesn’t suspect is that Robert is also his wife’s longtime lover, and news of his imminent arrival has her canceling the trip to mother’s “Toots Shor! Er…wait I meant to say canceling the trip to mother’s “trout suit!” No, that’s not it…. “Canceling the trip…?”
“Canceling the trip…?” Oh c’mon, “canceling the….?” Got it! “Canceling the trip tout de suite!” (Ah, yes high school French, there’s two years of my life I can kiss “au revoir” to.)
But wait, there’s more!
Bernard is aghast to learn that Jacqueline is now insisting on staying because what she doesn’t suspect and Robert hasn’t been told is that Bernard was intending on using Robert as his “beard” to cover up that he would be spending the weekend with Suzanne (Afton Quast), his scrumptious little squeeze on the side.
Just a minute – Suzanne the “scrumptious squeeze” is coming – and Suzette the “‘traveling chef” is coming with no doubt a jealous husband (Michael Cusimano) subject to murderous rages following close on her heels – Suzette and Suzanne? Murderous rages? Uh oh, trouble brewing. As you can see it is your standard sex farce of the sort that the French write, the English adore and Americans…well turn into Jerry Lewis movies.
Director Todd Nielsen works the material to maximum effect, and has seen to it that his cast hits the play’s high points with pitch-perfect comic timing. It is however Karen Jean Olds as the mousey chef with larceny in her soul and a ladle in her hand who nearly walks away with the show.
ITC, I confess, has become one of my favorite venues, offering as it does the intimacy of a black box with the breadth of the Mark Taper. It is, frankly, a beautifully designed playhouse. While I personally could wish for their choice of plays to be a bit more adventurous in nature, artistic director Caryn Desai undoubtedly knows what fare pleases the palate of her audiences. She has also gathered about her an ensemble capable of serving that fare to perfection.