Off-Broadstreet Theater celebrates its silver anniversary with a new production of a highly successful French play from the 1970s, “Don’t Dress for Dinner” (known in French as “Pyjamas pour Six”) by Marc Camoletti. The original Paris production, which dated to the 1980s, ran for two years. Off-Broadstreet is using Robin Hawdon’s English adapation, which opened in London in 1991 and ran for seven years. (An earlier English adaptation known as “Happy Birthday” was produced in 1979.)
With six characters, “Don’t Dress for Dinner” is a doors farce without the doors. Although the surprises that stun the characters don’t come from discovering who is behind a door, the surprises are just as debilitating and occur as often as they do in a doors comedy. Most of the characters are involved in what might be termed unethical, or at least misleading, behavior, and the plot hinges on the misunderstandings that arise as the characters try to achieve their illicit goals while pretending they’re trying to do something else.
Bernard (Barry Abramowitz) plans to take advantage of the fact that his wife, Jacqueline (Alison Quairoli), is spending the weekend visiting her mother to entertain his new mistress. He invites his good friend, Robert (Michael Iacovelli), to spend the weekend with them and serve as a smoke screen. Jacqueline discovers that Robert, who happens to be her lover, is coming for the weekend, and without knowing why he’s been invited, decides not to visit her mother after all; she’d rather get in a little time with Robert. Bernard has hired a caterer to prepare a fancy meal for the occasion, but of course another mixup occurs: the caterer and Bernard’s new girlfriend happen to have similar names (Suzette and Suzanne), and end up having to pretend to be each other. This is not entirely successful as the model-thin Suzanne (Adina Petro) doesn’t know how to cook, and Suzette (Susan Fowler), who carries the amount of weight a professional cook might be expected to carry, does not make the most convincing glamor girl.
All but one of the actors is an OBT veteran, and the level of acting is high. Abramowitz sang in last fall’s “Deja Vu.” Quairoli, a veteran of several Off-Broadstreet productions, was seen last year in “Johnny Guitar” and cites as among her favorite OBT productions “Run for Your Wife” and “Park Your Car in Harvard Yard.” Iacovelli was also part of the “Run for Your Wife” cast at OBT. Fowler was in OBT’s “You Never Know” and “Out of Order.” Petro, the newcomer to the cast, boasts previous stage experience but has in recent years been modeling in New York City. Late in the play Robert Thick, who also serves as director and designer, also appears on stage briefly as George, the husband of the cook, a surprise partly because there had been no indication that the cook even had a husband. It may be a small role, but Thick, with his usual authority, sets in motion the possibility of untangling the web of misunderstandings.
The actors all do a good job, and as usually happens at OBT that job is made easier by the clarity of the set design and the direction, both of which are Thick’s responsibility. All the action takes place in the living room of Bernard and Jacqueline’s country house. The house is a remodeled barn, with the bedrooms bearing the names of their former purpose: the piggery, the cow shed, and so on. The costumes are by Ann Raymond, who manages to make them not just attractive but adaptable to their roles in conveying the story and when necessary adjustable. At times characters are dressed to fit with the person they actually are, but when Bernard’s schemes require them to be someone else, Raymond’s costumes make the necessary adjustments relatively easy to carry out. And Thick, as usual, keeps the action moving in a way that helps clarify the story.
As an example of how to put together a farce and present it to an audience, “Don’t Dress for Dinner” deserves high marks. It looks like Off-Broadstreet’s silver anniversary season has gotten off to a promising start.
Don’t Dress for Dinner, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Through Saturday, February 14. $27.50 to $29.50 includes dessert. 609-466-2766 or www.off-broadstreet.com.