March 30, 2020
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Inane and insane farce ‘Don’t Dress for Dinner’ saved by fine type-casting

Courtesy of Ashley Elliott
Courtesy of Ashley Elliott
Things come a head in Penobscot Theatre Company's production of "Don't Dress for Dinner" at the Bangor Opera House.

Penobscot Theatre Co.’s winter offering at the Bangor Opera House is an inane and insane bedroom farce set in a living room with the requisite number of sexual innuendos and slamming doors that works thanks to fine type-casting.

“Don’t Dress for Dinner,” written by Marc Camoletti, the French playwright who wrote the hit “Boeing-Boeing,” was adapted by English playwright Robin Hawdon. It premiered on Broadway in 2012.

The audience at Sunday’s matinee loved every pelvic thrust and parry as the six actors in the cast maniacally raced through the double entendres, in and out doors, up and down stairs and around furniture. The plot hardly matters, but “Don’t Dress for Dinner” in two acts tells the story of a weekend at a house in the French countryside, where a couple of British expatriates are joined by a mistress, a boyfriend and a cook. To name the sixth character would ruin one of the shows few surprises.

Courtesy of Ashley Elliot
Courtesy of Ashley Elliot
Brad LaBree (right), Dominick Varney and Michelle Weatherbee star in Penobscot Theatre Company's production of "Don't Dress for Dinner" at the Bangor Opera House.

Chris “Red” Blisset, who directed and starred in “Woody Guthrie’s American Song” last fall, is credited in the program with directing this show. The frenzied pace at which the dialogue is delivered, and the actors move about the stage, however, is a hallmark of Producing Artistic Director Bari Newport’s style, so it’s unclear who actually was in the director’s chair.

“Don’t Dress for Dinner” puts local favorite Dominick Varney back onstage in the kind of role he is best known for after his breathtaking and heartbreaking dramatic performance last spring as the father in “Fun Home,” the 90-minute, one-act musical based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir. As Robert, the boyfriend, Varney delivers the over-the-top comedic performance PTC’s audiences have come to expect from him.

Varney hits all the right notes as the man caught in the middle of his best friend Bernard’s silly plan to have Robert pretend to be the boyfriend of his own mistress, while trying to hide his affair with Bernard’s wife, Jacqueline. His best moments are when Robert tries to explain the complex and twisted plot to the other characters.

The actor perfectly captures all of Robert’s frustration with his friend’s plan while reluctantly going along with it. Theatergoers who loved Varney in PTC’s productions of “Sheer Madness,” “Matilda,” “Beauty and the Beast” and others will applaud that he’s back in comedic form in the kind of role for which he is worshipped and adored.

Courtesy of Ashley Elliot
Courtesy of Ashley Elliot
The cast of Penobscot Theatre Company's "Don't Dress for Dinner" at the Bangor Opera House express their displeasure with each other.

As good as he is in “Don’t Dress for Dinner,” it is Jen Shepard as the cook Suzette who’s the star of this show. Shepard, co-owner of ImprovAcadia , steals every scene she’s in out from under Varney and the rest of the cast. One reason for that is because it’s the best written role in the production. The other is Shepard’s immense talent and her ability to read an audience after years of improvising on stage. Shepard’s Suzette rolls with every punch the script delivers and hysterically uses every plot twist and turn to her advantage. It is a delightful performance.

The rest of the cast, including Brad LaBree (Bernard), Amanda Ryan Paige (Jacqueline), Michelle Weatherbee (Suzanne) and the actor who shall remain nameless are nicely typecast and give equally fine performances. LaBree and Varney work especially well together as the longtime pals whose friendship may not survive the weekend.

The design team of Patrick Rizzotti (set), Jess Fialko (lighting), Kevin Koski (costumes), Meredith Perry (properties) and Sean McGinley (sound) created a workable space that embraces the show’s furious pace. Theatergoers should pay close attention to the fur coat and the eye-catching chandelier, both of which give these characters far more elegance than they deserve.

In this mid-winter slot, Newport has produced some wonderful shows — “Guys on Ice” and “Escanaba in da Moonlight” — and some real dogs — “Honky Tonk Laundry” and “ The Sugar Bean Sisters.” “Don’t Dress for Dinner” is somewhere in-between but does not have the resonance of the French farce classics, “A Flea in Her Ear” or “Tartuffe.”

Penobscot Theatre Co.’s production of “Don’t Dress for Dinner” will be performed at the Bangor Opera House, 131 Main St., Bangor, through Feb. 16. For information, call 942-3333 or visit penobscottheatre.org.

 


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