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'Dress for Dinner' Freshens Up for Summer

Theater review: Laguna Playhouse lightens a reprise of the farce with a quicker pace for the same fine cast.


LAGUNA BEACH — "Don't Dress for Dinner," Robin Hawdon's adaptation of Marc Camoletti's Parisian comedy "Pyjamas Pour Six," is French farce done British-style.

The Laguna Playhouse production, which opened Friday at the Moulton Theater, succeeds on very funny performances by a snappy cast and the humor of an outrageous situation in which marital propriety is upheld at all costs, although nobody really gives a hoot.

The show was such a smash for the playhouse earlier this year during the regular season that it has been brought back with the same players on the same set by the same director. This time, it deserves to be an even bigger smash.

The pace is quicker and the performances smarter than before; and to judge by a summer crowd of first-nighters who seemed paralyzed with laughter, the show is bound to be a hot ticket again.

Perfect theater fare for summer, "Don't Dress for Dinner" deposits us for a weekend in the country chez Bernard and his wife, Jacqueline. She is about to pay an overnight visit to Mother, which leaves him free to invite his mistress, Suzanne, home for a little tryst complete with cordon bleu cook, Suzette, from the Bon Appetit catering service to prepare dinner.

In case he needs an alibi, Bernard also invites his old friend Robert for the weekend. What Bernard does not know is that his wife and Robert are lovers. When Jacqueline discovers that Robert is coming, she cancels her plans and stays home. Robert is just back from Hong Kong, you see, and Jacqueline hasn't bedded him in a while.


Meanwhile, Bernard inveigles Robert into passing himself off, at least to Jacqueline, as Suzanne's lover. What else are friends for?

But a confusion of names leads to a catastrophic mix-up of identities--both the cook and Bernard's mistress are called Suzie--and the charade of who's who and what's what is stretched beyond the absurd to the hilarious.

Although Lisa Robinson and Tom Shelton are especially well matched as the married couple, with each giving more relaxed (and therefore funnier) performances than last time, again the production's ace in the hole is Gail Godown's loopy comic turn as the mercenary cook. She's a pistol with a Cockney accent and rich body English. Her performance takes the entire show over the top with her.

The second act lags ever so slightly and could use some tightening, but director Andrew Barnicle generally keeps the romp brisk throughout, arming the production with plenty of sight gags. Godown, Shelton and David Anthony Smith (as Robert) execute flawlessly, making them look easy.

Not incidentally, "Don't Dress for Dinner" is very well dressed. Barnicle's detailed scenic design (a country home converted from a large stonewalled barn) lends the show an expansive feeling. The stylish costumes enhance the sense that we've come to the right address too.

This delicious reprise is a choice morsel served with a flourish. It is a rich dessert for the taste buds, not a full meal for the mind. But it's worth indulging to the last, sweet calorie.

* "Don't Dress for Dinner," Laguna Playhouse's Moulton Theater, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends July 27 (dark July 4). $29-$35. (714) 497-2787. Running time: 2 hours.

Tom Shelton: Bernard

Lisa Robinson: Jacqueline

David Anthony Smith: Robert

Gail Godown: Suzette

Victoria Morsell: Suzanne

Patrick Munoz: George

A Laguna Playhouse production of a play by Marc Camoletti, adapted from the French by Robin Hawdon. Directed by Andrew Barnicle. Scenic design: Barnicle. Lighting design: Paulie Jenkins. Costume design: Mary Saadatmanesh. Sound design: David Edwards. Stage manager: D. Alexander.

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