Fort Worth's Stage West hosts a totally rad dinner party play
A farce, with all its slamming doors and twisted plot lines and mistaken identities, can be a very difficult thing to pull off well. Even if the actors can keep it all straight, the audience may not always come along for the ride. Thankfully, Don't Dress for Dinner at Stage West is a madcap marathon that never stumbles.
Robin Hawdon's adaptation of Marc Camoletti's 1987 script gets a period-appropriate staging under the direction of Christie Vela, with big hair and even bigger shoulder pads.
Mint green trim zigzags around Michelle Harvey's bi-level set, which features six entrances and plenty of slammable doors. A Top 40 soundtrack from John Flores nostalgically mines the era, while Ryan D. Schaap's costumes run from acid-wash jeans to power suits. Nobody will look twice if you throw on some legwarmers and crimp your hair, just to fit in.
The hijinks begin when Bernard (Stage West managing director Mark Shum) invites his mistress over for a weekend romp while his wife Jacqueline (executive director Dana Shultes) is meant to be away. But when Jacqueline discovers that Bernard's friend Robert (Michael Federico) is also coming, she decides to stay — because Robert is her secret lover. By the time Bernard's mistress (Catherine D. DuBord) and the cook he hired (Allison Pistorius) show up, the marital treachery, mistaken identities, and overall chaos postpone all trysts.
The ever-versatile Pistorius gets to stretch her comedic muscles as the gum-snapping cook Suzette, whose physical comedy is the most believable (and hilarious) of the bunch.
As the adulterous falsehoods pile on, Federico's Robert becomes the audience's de facto narrator, laying out the lies in one dizzying speech after another. At nearly two-and-a-half hours, it's one doozy of a dinner, but Vela keeps the throughline clear as the cast barrels toward a satisfying conclusion.
This play possesses more than one resemblance to the film version of Clue, which came out just two years prior to Camoletti's play. More or less trapped in Bernard and Jacqueline's home — a converted barn that still uncomfortably bears the names of its previous life — guests scamper in and out of the cow shed (guest room), the piggery (second guest room), and the dairy (kitchen), wielding cocktails and hurling double entendres. If things ever took a darker turn, it wouldn't be a stretch to guess whodunnit: the cook in the hen house with the seltzer bottle.
Stage West's production of Don't Dress for Dinner runs through August 12.