[Review] Don’t Dress for Dinner

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The Stage Club presented Don’t Dress for Dinner, a sequel to Marc Camoletti’s signature hit Boeing-Boeing, featuring more farcical adventures of the two main characters Robert and Bernard.

The play opens regularly enough. Bernard (Santhosh Kumar Seetharaman) and his wife Jacqueline (Neena Khattar) are getting ready for separate weekends in their renovated farmhouse just outside of Paris; Jacqueline is spending the weekend with her mother and thinks Bernard is spending a quiet weekend at home. He is, however, really spending the weekend with his mistress Suzanne (Ruth Mannion), a chic Parisian model. He has also hired Cordon Bleu chef Suzette (Jane Grafton) to help with dinner and invited his best friend Robert (Srinivas Subramanian) to the house as an alibi.

Bernard’s plans quickly fall apart when Jacqueline stumbles upon the fact that he has invited Robert to spend the weekend at their house. She cancels her weekend plans with her mother, and in the first of many twists, it is revealed that she and Robert are in fact having an affair and that she has all intention of having a little forbidden tryst of her own under her husband’s very nose. Sensing that things may not go as he had hoped, Bernard quickly devises a new plan by having his mistress pretend to be Robert’s girlfriend instead. This only makes the situation worse, of course, since Robert’s real girlfriend (Jacqueline) is already going to be in the house. The cook is now the mistress, the mistress is cooking dinner, the friend is bewildered, the wife suspicious, the husband is losing his mind and everyone is guaranteed an evening of hilarious confusion as Bernard and Robert improvise at breakneck speed.

The cast does a commendable job of bringing to life the relationships and undercurrents between the characters. Seetharaman is convincing as a bumbling and forgetful Bernard, who does not seem sophisticated enough to have a mistress like Suzanne nor carry off such an elaborate act of infidelity under his wife’s nose. Khattar makes a feisty and sharp Jacqueline, effectively bringing out the passive-aggressive relationship between her and Robert when she discovers his “infidelity” while keeping her husband in the dark about her affair. Subramanian deserves commendation for his smooth delivery of quite a few tongue-twisters throughout the play, as well as his believability as a character whose loyalties are caught between his best friend and his mistress. Mannion is perfectly coquettish as Suzanne, her thick French accent and her exasperation at having to carry out menial tasks (non-befitting of a model), keep the audience thoroughly entertained throughout the play.

Some of the play’s funniest moments, however, come from Grafton, whose role as the unsuspecting cook dragged into the mess of lies and infidelity serves as the play’s prime source of confusion. Suzette just wants to do her job and cook dinner, but is forced to pretend to be a chic Parisian model one minute and Robert’s niece the next, which she is happy to do with a little monetary incentive and some liquor. In one of the play’s funniest physical acts of comedy, Suzette’s maid uniform, the only other outfit she brought with her from home, is transformed into a classy dinner party outfit, which inspires her to play the uptown Parisian model she most definitely is not.

Director Hunter Wood guides the action along skilfully, blending absurd plot twists and escalating complications to create quite the entertaining farce. Just when everything seems to be spiralling out of control, Suzette’s husband, George (Ian Kimbell), arrives to picks her up from the house after a long evening, apparently a well-established routine between the couple, and order is once again restored.

The play neither extols nor abhors infidelity or the dysfunctional relationships between the characters, nor does it place blame of the failing relationships on any of the characters. Amidst the chaos and comical absurdity the characters find themselves in, the steadfast relationship between the chef Suzette and her husband George shines and puts into perspective how the most simple, uneventful of relationships might sometimes be the happiest ones.