MORRISBURG – Subtlety is really, really wasted in a farce.
No-holds-barred nonsense absolutely has to be the order of the day. On-stage action must delivered at a break-neck, comic pace. And neither the actors nor the audience should have any time to waste on puzzling out “rational explanations” for anything.
Don’t Dress for Dinner, the madcap Marc Camoletti/Robin Hawdon farce now performing at Upper Canada Playhouse starts accelerating five minutes into Act I and ends somewhere in the area of light speed by Act II.
Fortunately, director Donnie Bowes has put together a strong (and agile!) cast for this second production of the Playhouse summer season. Veteran actors Garfield Andrews, Anita La Selva, Perry Mucci, AnnaMarie Lea, Stephanie Folkins and Mark Burgess, bring lots of energy to a play that demands pace, physicality and split second timing for much of its humour.
As actor Garfield Andrews remarked at an earlier press conference, “The audience in this play actually knows more about what’s going on than the actors do. They’re often laughing in anticipation.”
The plot of Don’t Dress for Dinner is classic Camoletti romantic farce – which means that coincidence and confusion rule.
A philandering husband, planning an at-home, weekend fling with his much younger mistress, hopes to camouflage his actions from his wife by using his best friend as a cover. Little does he know that his best friend also has plans for a weekend romantic tryst in mind – involving a most unexpected person.
Toss in a Cordon Bleu chef from the Bon Appetit Agency with a very jealous, slightly homicidal husband, and you have, as director Donnie Bowes put it, a play based on “misconceptions, misunderstandings, and one or more people making very bad choices.”
Lies and cover-ups hilariously pile on top of each other, until practically no one on stage is sure who is with whom, and why or wherefore!
At one point, Suzette the chef (AnnaMarie Lea) sums up the comic mayhem (as the audience roars with laughter) when she stops everyone on stage for a moment to blankly ask: “Wait a minute. Am I a cook, a model, a waitress, an actress, a mistress or a pig sty attendant?”
Garfield Andrews’ Bernard, the husband, is conniving and rather smug – until his escalating lies trip him up. (“My wife trusts me!” he proclaims self-righteously at one point. “Stupid woman,” Suzette says bluntly.)
Stephanie Folkins’ Suzanne, the would-be-mistress, may actually be a bit more attracted to $10,000 coats than she is to Bernard. What she definitely is not attracted to, however, is finding herself suddenly ‘cast’ as a Cordon Bleu cook. (“I’m vegetarian!”)
Anita La Selva, aristocratic wife Jacqueline, detects the odour of rodent around her husband’s frantic efforts to get her out of town and refuses to leave. The audience speedily becomes aware that Jacqueline may actually have some risqué plans of her own.
George, Suzette’s burly husband (Mark Burgess), is very confused when he too arrives at the summer retreat (“There’s a freakin’ orgy going on here!”) and very willing to resolve matters in his own special way – possibly by dismembering Bernard and/or his hapless friend Robert.
AnnMarie Lea, whose character Suzette gives new meaning to the term ‘mercenary’, is absolutely hilarious, caught up in escalating (and ‘revealing’!) transformations as the absurdity spirals out of control.
Perry Mucci, the actually less-than-innocent Robert, ultimately delivers what I can only describe as an utterly bravura light speed rendition of the entire ‘plot’ in Act II, to the open-mouthed astonishment of the on-stage characters, and the delighted applause of the audience.
By show’s end, married couples and swinging singles alike have all managed to achieve a happy ending (however wildly improbable it is!) And isn’t that what farce is all about?
Don’t Dress for Dinner, now on stage at Upper Canada Playhouse until July 28, is frothy, funny summer fare.