BENICIA OLD TOWN THEATRE GROUP DIRECTOR CLINTON VIDAL has gathered just the right ingredients for a fun and lively production of Marc Camoletti’s rollicking farce, “Don’t Dress for Dinner,” which opened to a near-capacity crowd at the B.D.E.S. Hall on Friday.
Scott Poitras and Natalie Hardt seem made for each other as philandering couple Bernard and Jacqueline. The two play off each other marvelously, their comedic timing and dramatic connection spot-on to the end. Jenny Rastegar couldn’t be more perfect in the role of Suzette, the first member of the extended household to fall prey to an epidemic of misconceptions and mistaken identities; and Callie Heyer owns the character of Suzanne, the svelte and glamorous object of Bernard’s adulterous affection. Finally, Chuck Schilling ties it all together as hapless visitor Robert, pulled in more directions than any of the others as he tries to appease everyone at once. (Schilling replaced Daniel Morgan, who is pictured in the cast photo, as Robert.)
The fun begins when Jacqueline, about to leave for the weekend to see her mother, discovers that her husband has invited their old friend Robert for a visit. Within minutes, it seems, a crazy quilt of deception has formed as each spouse’s secret lover winds up arriving at the house, along with a cook (Suzette) who shares the nickname “Suzie” with Bernard’s lover Suzanne. Imagine, if you will, two women at a party both responding to “Suzie” — and guess what happens when somebody calls out “Darling”!
The play starts right off with funny surprises, handled with aplomb by all, and just when you think it couldn’t get any funnier, it does. Everyone in the ensemble deserves an award for creating an energized bunch of delightful characters, and for interacting seamlessly with each other in the process.
After the dust seems to have settled and everyone is about to go to bed — somewhere or other, that is — Suzanne’s husband arrives to bring her home. Brian Hough is a delight as George, who must figure out why his wife (the cook) is dressed as a guest, and why she seems to insist on pretending that she is Robert’s lover — or was that Bernard’s lover? Hough commands the stage with his presence, conveying his character’s jealous temper as well as his enthusiasm once he decides to play along with the charade.
Highlights include Heyer as the high-maintenance girlfriend forced to don an apron and prepare dinner for all (picture the paramour in a sexy, sequined evening dress holding a large mixing bowl and spoon), and Rastegar changing her roles — and costumes — at every turn as she is wrangled into supporting a different lie with each passing moment.
It’s Bernard and Jacqueline, though, who dominate the stage, and Poitras and Hardt couldn’t be more suited to their parts. The action is nonstop. The comedy keeps on coming at a rapid-fire pace, and the players all seem to thrive in that brisk and demanding environment. Everyone must be ready at the drop of a hat — or the spray of a seltzer bottle — to react and regroup repeatedly throughout each scene, and each player on opening night Friday was right on, creating an impression that they were all gleefully sharing the fun with the audience. And, with the exception of Rastegar, all of the actors’ voices came through loud and clear, making it easy to hear every hilarious word.
Come out and see this latest offering from Benicia Old Town Theatre Group. It’s a funny play, and a great performance. This one’s a winner!
If You Go
“Don’t Dress for Dinner” continues at the B.D.E.S. Hall, 140 West J St., through May 9. Tickets are $20 and are available at the door, at Benicia Chamber of Commerce or online at beniciaoldtowntheatregroup.com. For more information call 746-1269.
Elizabeth Warnimont is a freelance writer specializing in the performing arts. She is also a substitute teacher for the Benicia Unified School District.