BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
Observing the opening scene for “Don’t Dress for Dinner,” as middle-aged Bernard plans to enjoy a sexy weekend at his country house outside of Paris – his wife is going away, his mistress is coming to romp, his best friend is serving as an alibi, a hired cook is arriving to cater the affair – I kept thinking, now where have I seen this silly play before?
By the time the next wave of complications subsided – the wife decides to stay because she is secretly having an affair with the best friend, the cook has been misleadingly identified as the best friend’s mistress (which annoys the wife), the bewildered mistress is now being passed off as the cook – I realized that I reviewed “Don’t Dress for Dinner” when it was staged by Paper Mill Playhouse some 20 years ago.
The passage of two decades has not improved the vintage of this farcical comedy by French playwright Marc (“Boeing-Boeing”) Camoletti as adapted with a British flavour by Robin Hawdon. It is one of those sniggering brews of frustrated desires and frantic physical business that usually does not appeal to my taste (although let’s admit that Matthew Warchus’ snazzy Broadway revival of “Boeing-Boeing” in 2008 was a pleasure).
Still, I expect that some Americans enjoy busily naughty French-British sex comedies like “Don’t Dress for Dinner,” and Roundabout Theatre Company serves up a fairly decent account of its liaisons-not-so-dangereuses. Opening last week at American Airlines Theatre, the Broadway production proves to be a sporadically funny affair.
Director John Tillinger assembles a proficient crew of actors to animate the comedy’s machinery and they throw themselves into it with considerable energy.
A plummy-voiced Adam James makes for a desperately chipper Bernard, an elegant Patricia Kalember expertly shoots daggers as his wife, and the lithe, lively Ben Daniels anxiously dances around as the best friend/lover. Brassy in voice and overflowing in décolletage, Jennifer Tilly amusingly becomes ever more bedraggled as the mistress who makes a mess of the dinner that nobody gets dressed up for (except they do).