Don’t Dress for Dinner
The television program Three’s Company is hardly the foremost farce in the comedic canon, but for me it will always be the one against which all others are measured. I saw so many syndicated episodes at an impressionable age that I can’t help it. My whole life, I’ve watched big budget feature comedies, marveling that even with all their studio resources, they often can’t manage what Three’s Company managed to do over and over and over: construct a ludicrous plot that generates uproarious laughter at regular intervals in spite of how stupid and contrived it actually is. It’s a difficult recipe. You need a script that is simultaneously clever and dumb. You need a storyline with paper-thin gravitas that will support the weight of heavy-duty character machinations. You need super-expressive actors who are unselfconscious and quick on their feet.
If you get all this right, you end up with a perfect comedy soufflé that is lighter than air but will stand up to a refined comedic palate. Reno Little Theater’s production of Don’t Dress for Dinner comes close.
The plot of Don’t Dress is almost too absurd and convoluted to relate here, but its ridiculousness is a big part of the fun, so without further ado: Bernard (Kyle Crawford) arranges a special weekend behind the back of his wife Jacqueline (Elizabeth Jernigan) when she is scheduled to be elsewhere. He invites his mistress Susanne (Sara Walls) and his best friend Robert (Matthew Saylor) to his country house. When Jacqueline finds out, last minute, that Robert is coming, she stays because Robert is actually her lover. Bernard handles his wife’s unexpected presence by improvising: Susanne will pose as Robert’s mistress when she arrives so that Jacqueline doesn’t know she is really Bernard’s mistress. Robert balks because his actual mistress, Jacqueline, will be furious that he has another mistress. The final ingredient is the hired cook, Suzette (Meredyth Martin). When she shows up early, Robert quickly constructs a fake relationship with her, mistaking her for Susanne. Once this charade is underway, the real Susanne shows up and has to pretend to be the cook.
Got all that? It doesn’t matter. The whole thing is just an elaborate framework for plenty of double-talk, sight gags, spit takes and seltzer spraying—and for the most part, it works wonderfully.
Saylor is terrific as the suave-but-coming-unglued Robert. His reactions as the house of cards crumbles around him are the production’s best moments. Martin likewise shines as Suzette, the character who bears the weight of the play’s zaniest plot mechanisms. The rest of the cast is less polished, but likable.
Adultery is not something I find particularly funny, but Marc Camoletti’s outstanding script deftly downplays the moral implications of the characters’ actions. However, RLT’s production undermines Camoletti by opening the play with a bizarre spoken introduction by someone I can only assume is the director, Dr. Sam Coleman (he didn’t introduce himself). His comments about the nature of love add little to the text, and in fact seem to correspond with an entirely different play than the one they introduce. Dr. Coleman has done a good job with his actors on a very demanding play, but that play would be better served if the only words delivered onstage were the playwright’s.
All told, Don’t Dress for Dinner is a fun, lighthearted way to spend an evening. You will almost certainly laugh out loud multiple times. On the tried-and-true Three’s Company scale, that’s a pretty darned good episode.