Don’t dress for Dinner 28th April, ’12

ny broadway

It’s a hoot. It’s pure complicated, intelligent, sexy fun and it’s worth seeing more than once. Actually – I’d recommend seeing it twice at least – after all you’ll be laughing through some of the hilarious scenes and therefore miss out on further fun! It’s tumultuous, fast paced, delivered at breakneck speed precise farce. Rush to see it!

Written in the 60ies, this farce fits seamlessly into the tradition of its predecessor Boeing, Boeing (remember the movie w Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis?) and is a perfect example for a modern version of the screwball comedies of the 40ies and 50ies – after all: intelligent comedy never gets out of fashion.

That said I need to emphasize that this farce lives and dies with the actors involved – and that it lives and thrives is largely because of the skills of these actors: There is Adam James as the notorious lothario Bernard, who even after marrying cannot stop to pursue every skirt in the vicinity. His long suffering wife Jacqueline is played by Patricia Kalember – who it turns out does have secrets of her own.  There’s Jennifer Tilly, absolutely brilliant as the busty Suzanne, Spencer Kayden as Suzette, ze cooook who gets paid a lot of extras and David Aron Damane as her husband George who has a short but sweet appearance at the end of the play.

And then there is Ben Daniels as Robert. And he takes Farce to a whole new level. He becomes the 42 year old divorced Brit living in Mont Matreux (montmartre) with his two cats, who just came home from Kuala Lumpur.

Robert is the alibi guest in Bernard’s weekend house (a converted barn) – with Jacqueline soon to be out to go to her mom for the weekend Bernard had invited his new conquest, knock out Suzanne for an intimate birthday celebration; and Robert is brought in  in order to derail the nosy neighbours. What Bernard hadn’t considered: as soon as Jacky hears Robert is back she cancels her visit to her mother because – ooops – she has an affair with eager Robert!

Which has to be hidden from Bernard. Bernard, who wants Robert to pose as the boyfriend of his lover Suzie so that Bernard still can have his way with his mistress. Which doesn’t go over too well with Jacky who is enraged that Robert apparently has a second mistress next to her…

And to make things really complicated Suzette arrives just as husband and wife are out groceries shopping – and Robert assumes this is Suzie, Bernard’s girl on the side. As the good friend that he is, Robert introduces cook Suzette to the elaborate scheme and after 200 franc pass hands the cook accepts – in a way that makes Robert think she’s a pro hooker.

And yet it is not before knock out Suzie arrives and immediately snogs the life out of Robert, when things get really out of hand.

Now it would be too much to give an exact summary – I’m afraid it would probably kill the fun.

Just: the magnificent slapstick is displayed in such brilliant precision the audience is absolutely rolling out of their seats. There is the scene when Robert first comes into the house and is greeted by Jacky – very sexily. Before Bernard comes down and sees him he’s thrown out again only to come in a second later, hat askew and echoeing Jerry Lewis. I choked on my laughter, he was so brilliant.

There is the fabulous phone scene where Bernard tells his mistress to pretend being Robert’s girlfriend while Robert desperately tries to grab the receiver from Bernard. The two men end up entangled in phone cable and Robert’s face ends up in Bernard’s crotch – his face: priceless.

There’s Robert trying to get to know Bernard’s girlfriend in order to pretend she’s his girlfriend, only – he’s already mistaken Suzette the cook for Bernard’s mistress Suzie – and so he drops his pants to show off his recent appendix scar. I hadn’t known one could contort a body the way Robert is tying himself into a knot. Or when Robert desperately tries to understand what Bernard tries to tell him with gestures only – Robert, having no clue what his friend’s waves mean, starts to dance to put Jacky off their scent… and he moves and shakes – there is not a dry eye in the audience.

There is cook Suzie, sexy dress and french accent firm in place, pretending to be Robert’s cousin (“you arrre quite ze hunk, Unc!”), dancing the Tango with Robert. It’s a mixture of argentinian and french tango and Spencer Kayden seems to be a trained dancer, her ochos certainly are very precise. I never knew that steamy tango could ever be so sexily funny, tho: Robert’s face when she kicksteps between his legs is to die for.

And the way both men are reduced to stammering idiots at the sight of Suzette’s muscly husband George is more than just hilarious. Robert’s face when yet another batch of 200 franc change hands – this time given to George – and he answers George’s jovial “how are you, Uncle??” with a rather desperate “I survive” is just incredible.

Finally – when fast thinking Robert has “explained” the whole situation – or rather explained it away – and Bernard ends up in bed with Jacky – it’s Robert’s time: sexy buxomy Suzie, in search of a new benefactor, silently creeps over to Robert’s room just as Robert realises he won’t get any – erm his affair with Jacky is most likely over. And as she sheds first her black flimsy robe and then throws her nighty enticingly at Robert, Robert gets over his lost love rather “OH …MY…GOD!!” very quickly.

+++***+++***+++

I said it before and I’ll repeat it gladly – Ben Daniels shines in this part. Known mostly for intense and stark parts he is certainly revelling in being dorkily funny in a both mentally and physically challenging part. And he enthusiastically delves into it every night, some nights twice. “I can eat so much right now, it just falls off me”, he – obviously delighted – confided when I met him at the stage door. There’s no doubt that his perfect comic timing lifts the farce to new levels of fun, even making Adam James – who has the least gratifying part in this play – sympathetic. Ben’s face throughout the play is worth a second, third viewing alone. I really wish they’d record this version of the farce for posterity.

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