Review: 'Don't Dress for Dinner' at Arts Center full of twists, turns and hilarity

nancykwellard@gmail.com

February 13, 2014 

"Don't Dress for Dinner" is on stage through Feb. 23 at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island.

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Bernard and Gabriella and Robert and Suzette and Suzanne and George -- in no particular order or pairing -- have made their weekend plans. All will stay, or at least drop by, the country home of Bernard and Gabriella, who live just about two hours outside of Paris.

Sound reasonable?

Oh no, no, no.

What ensues is a tightly twisted, romantic French farce in which nothing goes as planned -- and thank heavens for that.

"Don't Dress for Dinner," on stage at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island through Feb. 23, is a stylish comedy with more twists than you can imagine.

Written by Marc Camoletti, "Don't Dress" offers an up close look at a particular romantic style not exactly en vogue these days. The wildly funny romp is set in the 1960s, and, for my money, I keep seeing a light-hearted reference to "Mad Men."

Be prepared for, first of all, mistresses, lovers, assignations and philandering. And further for extended cocktail hours, gourmet cooking, a silver-topped soda siphon bottle, ice buckets, Cordon Bleu cooking, glamorous fashion statements, short skirts and a long, luxurious Chanel fur coat.

Without taking away any of the fun, I will now reveal some of the plot twists.

Bernard (Adam Jonas Segaller) is bundling his wife, the formidable Gabriella (Eleanor Handley), off for a weekend with her mother. In the meantime, he has arranged for his mistress, Suzanne (Jessiee Datino), a luscious and delicious model who lives in Paris, to spend the weekend with him. Ever the romantic, he has also arranged for a cateress, through Cordon Bleu, to prepare and serve a gourmet dinner on the night of Suzanne's arrival.

Then we find that Bernard's best friend, Robert (Mark Carver), is just in from Paris and will be joining the dinner party. Just as Gabriella is about to strike out for her mother's house, she discovers that Robert is coming. The audience is provided a critical discovery â€" Gabriella and Robert are lovers, and Bernard does not have a clue. Gabriella, of course, wants to stay close, ahem, to enjoy Robert's arrival. She cancels Mom in a heartbeat.

Robert has agreed to pretend that Suzanne is his affair of the heart. Do remember that Gabriella is busy preparing for her evening with Robert. Oops.

The next twist is that it just happens that the cook from Cordon Bleu arrives first, before Suzanne, and her name is Suzette. The befuddled Robert, trying to figure things out, and trying to help Bernard while not upsetting Gabriella is, nevertheless, absolutely loyal to Bernard, and steps up to his role as boyfriend.

One of my absolute favorite scenes is the summary of events offered by Robert. When asked what is going on, he provides a detailed explanation and a physical demonstration, right down to the gnat's eyelash, of who did or said what to whom and why. He is knockout.

The evening proceeds with lots of one liners, double entendre and sidelong glances. There are amazing feats of physical humor, choreographed with amazing accuracy.

There is more fun, too, when we see the "cook" (now Suzanne -- who can't cook -- pretending to be Suzette) cooking the sauce veloute and enjoying more than her share of Cointreau.

And then there's George (David Hudson), a butcher who is married to the real Suzette. He shows up at the front door to pick up Suzette wearing his bloodied butcher's apron. An imposing figure, he asks all the right questions, is suspicious, but in the end is delighted to hear the amazing group before him, has gathered for a game of "Happy Families!"

The timing throughout this production is spot on.

Russell Treyz, who directed "Don't Dress for Dinner," has directed close to 20 productions at the arts center, which, by the way, included "Boeing Boeing," the prequel to "Don't Dress for Dinner." Here, once again, he has put together a hilarious production.

Artist, musician, teacher and writer Nancy K. Wellard focuses on portraying and promoting the cultural arts, first in Los Angeles and, for close to 30 years, in the Lowcountry.

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