Mistaken identities are the nub of Marc Camoletti’s often hilarious farce Don’t Dress for Dinner. The main sources of confusion, and the highlights of director John Tillinger’s slick new production, are the two interlopers to the country home of Bernard (Adam James) and his wife, Jacqueline (Patricia Kalember). Naturally, they have confusingly similar names. Suzanne, played with a well-earned sense of comic entitlement by Jennifer Tilly, is Bernard’s buxom, bubble-headed mistress, arriving for a weekend tryst while Jacqueline is supposedly away to visit her mother. Suzette, portrayed by an uproariously game Spencer Kayden, is a chef hired to cater a romantic dinner. There is a third visitor as well, Bernard’s old buddy Robert (Law & Order U.K.’s Ben Daniels), whose arrival sets the pretzel-like plot in motion.
You see, Robert has been having an affair with Jacqueline, who promptly cancels her trip to chez maman to stay home (and see Robert on the sly). That prompts both Bernard and Robert to scramble to account for the two Suzies — who enter, separately, soon after. Suzanne is presented as the cook, though she’s clearly the sort who regards an apron as just a really skimpy dress. Meanwhile, Suzette takes on a series of ever-more-outrageous personas depending on who is in the room. ”I should get an Oscar for this,” she says at one point. (Perhaps she’ll settle for a Tony nomination.)
Like her character, Kayden sheds her initial mousey appearance and grows increasingly bolder and more rubber limbed as the antics proceed. It’s a striking comic performance precisely because it’s so plausibly grounded in the real world. Would that everyone in the production followed that lead. In an early scene, James stomps around his living room like a petulant child, an outsize reaction to the spoiling of his romantic weekend. Even in farce, it’s better to underplay, to leave yourself something to build to when the comedy grows truly physical and over the top.
If Robert and Bernard’s names sound familiar, it’s no accident: They were characters in Camoletti’s 1960 farce Boeing-Boeing, which had a Tony-winning Broadway revival in 2008 starring Bradley Whitford as Robert (then a sophisticated, stewardess-juggling playboy) and Mark Rylance as Bernard (his naïve, country-bumpkin school chum). Here, their personalities are reversed: Bernard is now the caddish schemer and Robert the ever-flexible, apparently reasonable sidekick coping with an unworkable situation he didn’t initiate. While the mayhem in Don’t Dress for Dinner never rises to the dizzying heights of Boeing-Boeing, there are plenty of gut-busting moments to savor. And just be glad you didn’t have to taste Suzanne’s combination of cheese soufflé and baked Alaska. B
(Tickets: RoundaboutTheatre.org or 212-719-1300)