By Lyle Huchton of John Garcia’s The Column
Farce: 1: A comedy that entertains the audience with unlikely situations, disguise, and mistaken identity. 2: A fast paced plot whose speed increases, usually ending in an elaborate chase scene. 3: Don’t Dress for Dinner, the current undertaking for ICT MainStage at The Dupree Theatre in the Irving Arts Center.
Like a shot being fired at the beginning of a race, that is how ICT’s production starts off with this delicious little farce. From reading the program, I concluded that there would certainly be some sort of mistaken identity being that there was a character named Suzette and one named Suzanne. The set also offered me some clues as to the action of what was to transpire, seeing that there were 4 doors leading to different parts of the farmhouse. (Doors are another main element in a farce. I kept thinking of another farce, the comedy Noises Off: “All these doors!” “Oh only a handful really.”
We first meet Bernard (J. Alan Hanna) and his wife Jacqueline (Nikki Andoga). Bernard is trying to pack his wife off for the weekend so that he can spend time with his mistress Suzanne, (Ginger Goldman) a Parisian model and actress. As his alibi, Bernard has invited his friend Robert (Brad Stephens). Finally Bernard has hired a chef, Suzette (Angela Allen) to cook them dinner.
When Jacqueline discovers that Robert has been invited for the weekend, she changes her plans to stay at home. It turns out that she and Robert happen to be lovers. In order to cover himself, Bernard convinces Robert to tell Jacqueline that he and Suzanne are lovers, who he confuses with Suzette.
Director Jill Stephens shows a true understanding of this type of frenzy comedy. She keeps the actors moving like mice caught in a maze, with bits of physical activity that never cross over to slapstick. She has also assembled one of the best ensemble casts I have seen to date. There is no tug-of-war here with each fighting for the attention. Each actor handles the script with all its twists and turns, with ease at a brake-neck speed.
Leading the race is J. Alan Hanna as Bernard. Mr. Hanna’s physical actions are spot on. My only negative comment is that he at times rushes through his dialog and we lose some of what he is saying.
Nikki Andoga portrays Jacqueline his wife. She brings a calm, more thoughtful note to her character. Brad Stephens as Robert and Angela Allen as Suzette keep the festive pace rolling. Finally, exploding like a cherry bomb is Ginger Goldman as Suzanne.
Again, the ensemble work here is what most casts can only dream about.
The setting for this farce is to be a renovated farmhouse outside of Paris, France. This proved to be quite a challenge for set designer Erin Ball. The set was so out of proportion that it dwarfed the actors.
In addition to the lack of furniture, which would have allowed more obstacles for the actors to play around with, the painted wall paper was distracting and cartoonish. I felt so far removed from the action; I wanted to move my seat to the edge of the stage to be more involved. There is also a wide expanse between a chaise lounge and two well-placed chairs. The glaring white rug did not help at all to pull the room together. The set said more You Can’t Take It With You than French farmhouse. The only feeling I got from it was that the owners have very poor decorating sense.
The costume design by Binnie Tomaro was effective enough to show character, but it needed a little more pizzazz. The French are famous for their fashion. For example, when the men changed into robes and pajamas, they should have been as sexy as what the women were wearing. There is also a bit with a fur coat. I realize that if this coat were a Chanel knock-off, no one would understand the jokes. I only mention this because in my research the coat in question is referred to as a Chanel. (Although, I have seen Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue magazine, don a fur trimmed Chanel coat that would make your mouth water.) But this coat was too frumpy. As with all the costumes, I wanted them to be more fashion forward and sexy.
Having said that, it is the wonderful talents of the ensemble that make this a very worthy production to attend.
On a side note: In the lobby of the Dupree Theater there is a delightful exhibit of illustrations by children’s book authors Leo and Diane Dillion. Get there early so you can enjoy these beautiful works of art.