‘Dinner’ Theater that Leaves You Hungry

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in Arts & Film.


Matthew Warchus’ 2008 revival of Marc Camoletti’s Boeing-Boeing was a blast of sexist slapstick farce, anchored by Mark Rylance’s ebullient award-nabbing role as Robert. We meet him and his misogynist pal Bernard again in the current Roundabout revival of Camoletti’s follow-up, Don’t Dress for Dinner. Remember the adage “all’s well that ends well”? Well, Bernard and Robert may have married, but have they settled? To borrow another phrase, it ain’t necessarily so.
John Tillinger directs Dinner, a play that cannot rise above Camoletti’s junior-high hijinks. In fact, Dinner may be better-dressed (costumes courtesy of William Ivey Long) and better-accented, but in every other way it predicts the subterraneanly lowbrow Hangover films. Between plays, Bernard and Robert have divorced the flight attendant wives and moved on. Bernard (Adam James) is now married to Jacqueline (Patricia Kalember) but trying to hide an affair with his mistress Suzanne (a miscast Jennifer Tilly) during a weekend in a French country house (John Lee Beatty designed the sturdy, if sterile, set). He has roped in Robert (Ben Daniels) yet again to help with his scheme, an offer that his friend gladly accepts. You see, he and Jacqueline have been having a fling of their own.
But wait, there’s more! Camoletti’s web gets further tangled when the unfortunately named Suzette (Spencer Kayden) arrives and Robert confuses her with Suzanne, the woman he’s supposed to be pretending to be dating. Predictable mayhem ensues, but Tillinger can’t recreate the same balletic sense of pinball confusion Warchus achieved four seasons ago in Dinner’s predecessor, which is a shame because in some ways, Dinner (adapted here by Robin Hawdon) benefits from sounder structure. But eventually, every character’s motivation erodes, and the play begins to feel interminable when it should still be amping up. The silly pratfalls of farce require much precision, and the rhythms here are all a bit off. Setups take too long, and misunderstandings feel redundant and too predictable.
This even extends to Kayden’s scene-stealing role. Suzette agrees to swap identities from mistress to cook but only if she can extort money from Bernard and Robert to help fuel their scheme, and this thread runs afoul of its spool very quickly. She’s supposed to stand out as the voice of reason, but her own self-serving choices, tucked under an over-exaggerated French accent, make us think her character belongs with these motley fools. Meanwhile, Tilly seems to have no interest meshing with her other characters’ physically comedic chops or even trying to act in period.
The other actors play horndogs and coquettes nimbly. The oily Daniels’ and James’ jocularity is well-suited to the piece, and Kalember suffuses the brittle Jacqueline with a glimmer of sensuality and self-worth. It’s nice to see the battle of the sexes’ combatants so evenly matched, but must they all be such twits?

Don’t Dress for Dinner
American Airlines , 227 W. 42nd St. Tickets $117. Call 212-719-1300 or visit roundabouttheatre.org

Ben Daniels and Spencer Kayden in "Don't Dress for Dinner" Photo by Joan Marcus

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