“It’s all beige,” the woman next to me sighed when the curtain rose on the set of Don’t Dress for Dinner. Little did she know that John Lee Beatty’s set would be the least of her complaints regarding the Roundabout Theater Company’s revival of Don’t Dress for Dinner, the French sex farce by Marc Camoletti that opened on Broadway on Thursday night at the American Airlines Theater and is anything but funny.
A sequel to Camoletti’s Boeing-Boeing, which was performed on Broadway to great acclaim a few years ago, starring Mark Rylance, Don’t Dress for Dinner is directed by John Tillinger and revisits the two men from Boeing-Boeing, Bernard (Adam James) and Robert (Ben Daniels). Intending to take advantage of his wife being out of town, Bernard invites his mistress Suzanne (Jennifer Tilly) to stay with him for the weekend at his country house outside of Paris. He also invites the more mild-mannered Robert as his alibi. But when Bernard’s wife Jacqueline (Patricia Kalember) learns of Robert’s arrival, she cancels her trip to visit her mother. You see, Jacqueline and Robert have been having an affair of their own.
Bernard convinces Robert to say Suzanne is his mistress, which Robert is reluctant to do for fear of alienating Jacqueline. He eventually acquiesces, but further complications arise when Suzette (Spencer Kayden, the only redeeming aspect of this show), a cook sent by a catering agency, arrives. Robert mistakes Suzette for Suzanne and introduces her as his mistress. When Suzanne does arrive, she has to pretend to be Suzette. Throw in copious amounts of alcohol, a few wardrobe changes and some extremely flat jokes and this network of lies and schemes continues to build until it finally concludes in an anticlimactic and disappointing way.
For a comedy like Don’t Dress for Dinner to succeed, the audience has to be invested in the characters, and this group of spoiled, rich, and childish people does warrant any investment from the audience. As Bernard, James is sleek, smooth and entitled, and Daniels’ Robert has a few amusing moments of physical comedy, but neither depict any actual urgency regarding the disasters that are their love lives. As Jacqueline, Kalember speaks of the outrage her husband’s infidelity inspires but does not tap into the comedy of her hypocrisy. Tilly plays Suzanne as brash, bold and clueless, and William Ivey Long’s costumes show off her cleavage, but she does not inspire any sexual excitement that a mistress should.
In the role of Suzette, Kayden is the saving grace of Don’t Dress for Dinner. Her brisk, matter-of-fact delivery of lines inspires the few laughs this show earns, as does her frequent demands for more money every time the plot thickens and she has to play a different role at the dinner party. As she slowly transforms from a hired cook for the evening in a prim, button-down uniform to the sexy mistress/niece of Robert, with the help of several glasses of Cointreau, she begins to enjoy herself, playing a caricature of a high-society French lady. Her costume change, with the help of Brendan and Robert, and a comedic tango she dances in Act Two are the highlights of the evening.
Sadly, a few sporadic laughs are not enough to warrant acceptance of this dinner party. As the curtain fell, a French version of the song “Hit the Road, Jack” was playing. That was indeed what I wanted to do.