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January 14, 2009

'Don't Dress For Dinner' Is A Gastronomical Feast


Chicago has a new triple threat on the theatre scene in the form of a hysterical French farce. Don't Dress For Dinner, which opened last month at pristine Royal George Theatre, gives us one the best written, best directed and best acted plays in years. Written by French playwright Marc Camoletti, (who is currently seeing phenomenal success with a West End and Broadway revival of his Boeing-Boeing ) Dinner was a smash hit in Paris in 1987, where it was originally entitled Pyjama pour Six. This English adaptation premiered in 1991 at the Apollo Theatre in London where it was adapted by Robin Hawdon.

The complex plot certainly is a testament to Camoletti's training as an architect as the multi layered story unfolds: Jacqueline (Patrical Kalember) is leaving for the weekend to visit her mother while Bernard (Mark Harelik), her husband, is having a tryst, in their converted barn-home, with his mistress, Suzanne (Jamie Morgan). His friend, Robert (Jeffrey Donovan), who was his best man at his wedding to Jacqueline and currently her lover, decides to spend the weekend. Add that the caterer has sent over their best chef, a Cordon Bleu graduate, Suzette (Spencer Kayden). In the second act George (Chris Sullivan), Suzette's husband enters into the confusion. The story's twists and complexity of relationships, lies, and deceit drive the plot, compounding the layering, giving the audience an almost non-stop laugh riot.

Veteran Broadway director John Tillinger has such a masterful eye and ear for this material that the actors have a safe zone to take the scenes as far to the edge as possible with going overboard. Tillinger's direction is exactly what this type of comedy, which is in the Noises Off vein, calls for.

'Don't Dress For Dinner' Is A Gastronomical Feast
And what a cast! Jeffrey Donovan, who is currently enjoying television success with USA network's ‘Burn Notice' is both affable and hilarious, perfectly inhabiting Robert who is the foil to much of the slapstick. Donovan's fan base was in full force the evening I attended and he certainly does not disappoint, instantly winning over the audience with his infectious charisma. Patricia Kalember (who was brilliant in the Manhattan Theatre Club's Losing Louie) is equally as good here and has an innate pension for comedy as well as a striking and beautiful stage presence which is a nice change of pace from her dramatic television roles in ‘Sisters' and ‘thirtysomething'.

Spencer Kayden has the juiciest part as Suzette, the unwitting cook who is enlisted to take on different identities. Kayden, who won numerous awards for her role of Little Sally in the Broadway company of Urinetown, shows her flair for physical comedy. Kayden's hammy mannerisms and exaggerated haughty voice make her portrayal of a sophisticated lady hysterical.

'Don't Dress For Dinner' Is A Gastronomical Feast
Mark Harlik's Bernard get the evening in motion and grows more likable as the play unfolds. Rounding out this joyous cast are Jamie Morgan who brings an Ann Margaret quality to her Suzanne and Chicago resident Chris Sullivan garnering some of the biggest belly laughs of the evening.

Jim Noone's set design and Keith Parham's lighting fits the Royal George and this production like a glove creating the perfect atmosphere for this not to be missed comedy which is a more than welcomed addition to the Chicago theatre season. Don't Dress For Dinner is proving in its viability that there is certainly a place for this type of commercial work in our current mega musical landscape.

Don't Dress For Dinner is currently playing at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted St, Chicago. For more information, including tickets and show times, please visit or call 312.988.9000.

pic 1: L-R Mark Harelik, Spencer Kayden & Jeffrey Donovan Credit: Michael Brosilow

pic 2: L-R Patricia Kalember, Mark Harelik & Jeffrey Donovan Credit: Michael Brosilow

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