Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
When a man takes a lover and has the audacity to try to sneak a night at home with her while wifey is supposed to be away, we already know things aren’t going to go exactly as planned. The wife, Jacqueline, played by Stephanie Naru, decides to stay home after all, but instead of changing his plans, the husband, Bernard, sticks to them, with laugh-out-loud complications.
Such is the premise for Binghamton University’s Don’t Dress for Dinner, directed by the talented Carol Hanscom, known for her many roles and directing efforts at both BU and the Cider Mill Playhouse. She is an adjunct lecturer in acting for the Department of Theatre at BU.
Naru’s performance as the scorned but not-so-innocent-herself victim is spot-on. She reminded me of a young Barbara Stanwyck in some of her funnier film roles. This play, like as many other screwball comedies, perfectly illustrates the old saying, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”
And deceive they do, not just the philandering husband, played frenetically with fantastic stage business and pratfalls by Andrew Bryce, but everyone involved. When Bernard’s pal, Robert (Anthony Gabriele), shows up and is asked to help with an alibi, the two get into more Abbott and Costello-type routines than I could count.
Naru and Bryce open the play using thick, upper-crust British accents, with Bryce’s Bernard reminding me a little of a Bertie Wooster type, and Jacqueline sounding a lot like Lady Mary in Downton Abbey. As the complications mount up, however, the script doesn’t really allow the actors to maintain that speech. There’s a lot of fast talking, which is so much fun. Listen closely; you don’t want to miss a single word.
Other notable performances are given by Zarina Latypova as the va-va-voom lover, Suzanne, and the deceivingly frumpy Suzette, the cook for hire, played with perfect comic timing by Stephanie Gomerez. The characters’ similar names, Susanne and Suzette, lend themselves to all kinds of hilarious folly.
Gomerez does not caricaturize her part of the world-wise cook, which would have been easy to do, and her transformation by play’s end is stunning, in more ways than one. Suzette takes full advantage of her employers’ and their friend’s betrayals and secrets by asking for cash every time she has to change her own story to accommodate theirs. It’s really funny.
Gabriele’s Robert is the perfect comic partner to both Gomerez and Bryce. These three bring tremendous energy and hilarity to the plights their situations create, although Robert is as much to blame as Bernard and, for that matter, the stuffy wife, Jacqueline, who has a secret of her own.
Eric Berger, who plays Suzette’s husband, George, makes the most of his 10 minutes or so on stage at the end. So much bigger and authentic than the weasely Bernard and Robert, Eric is apparently crazy about his wife, not to mention her ability to generate hefty tips, but doesn’t take her home before he scares the pants off those other two fellows.
The set is wonderful and is almost a character itself in the two-act play. Bernard and Jacqueline have moved into an old barn and have converted it into a cozy love nest, naming the newly remodeled bedrooms alluded to often as “the hen house” and “the piggery.” You can guess how playwright, Marc Camoletti, “milks” that for every comic possibility.
Congratulations also to fight choreographer Nicolas Coccaro, whose fight scenes are believable and funny.
The audience, largely made up of students on opening night (Oct. 18) in the Chamber Hall at the Anderson Center, showed its appreciation by giving this wonderful cast and crew a standing ovation. Un-prudish members of the Greater Binghamton community with a good sense of humor will thoroughly enjoy this adult comedy, which I loved.
Written by Marc Camoletti, adapted by Robin Hawdon, “Don’t Dress for Dinner,” will be performed again at 8 p.m. Oct. 25 and 26 and at 2 p.m. Oct. 27. For tickets, call the box office at 607-777-ARTS. General Admission tickets are $14; faculty/staff/seniors, $12, and students (with ID), $8.