When the term “French farce” is used as a definition, it is often a hint that “naughty sex” will be involved somewhere in the plotline.
The work may be presented as a clean, innocent, goofball comedy which races from one riotous situation to another; but the subject will probably involve a tryst of some sort with a lot of physical shenanigans. In other words, people are meeting each other in secret, to do things they should not be doing with each other.
In the case of “Don’t Dress for Dinner” (originally called “Pyjamas pour Six”), it was written by acclaimed French playwright Marc Camoletti, debuted in Paris in 1987, and was adapted into English by Robin Hawdon in 1991. Now 12 years later, it’s on stage in Long Beach until the first Sunday in November.
If you love fast-paced, over-the-top comedies, you can’t afford to miss International City Theatre’s production of this slapstick French farce. Under the stop-watch direction of Todd Nielsen, the titillation is derived from the hoops the characters jump through when they’re “caught with their pants down.”
All the folderol takes place in a converted farmhouse outside of Paris, where British expat Bernard (Greg Derelian) lives with his lovely wife Jacqueline (Annie Farrell). The philandering husband has planned a weekend rendezvous with his voluptuous mistress Suzanne (Afton Quast) that includes a gourmet cook named Suzette (Karen Jean Olds), who has already been hired.
Bernard’s lovely wife was supposed to go visit her mother, but when Bernard’s best friend Robert (Matthew Wrather) calls to say he’s in the area; Jacqui cancels her trip and decides to stay home. It seems that she’s been fooling around with her husband’s best friend right under his nose.
Here’s the situation: Suzette (who’s having an affair with Bernard) is going to knock on the door; while Robert (who’s having an affair with Jacqui), is due at the same time. Throw in a mistress and a gourmet cook with similar names, and the recipe for a French farce goes from simmer to boil. Everyone in the ensemble is outstanding, but Karen Olds’s performance as Suzette the cook brings the house down.
As different characters enter the living room during the weekend, their identities are mistaken by those who are already there. The mistress becomes the gourmet cook; the cook becomes a whole bevy of people — and Robert gets engaged to someone.
By the time the cook’s husband (Michael Cusimano) shows up toward the end of the play, everything gets straightened out. Or does it?
Like French burlesque in the ’60s, there’s a lot of choreographed physical comedy that requires split-second timing; so kudos to the entire cast for their nimble calisthenics. (JB Bruce’s set is also a knock-out; as are all the gorgeous gowns designed by Kim DeShazo. And when the gowns come off (oo-la-la), beautiful pajamas take their place.)
“Don’t Dress for Dinner” continues on weekends through Nov. 3. For tickets, call 436-4610.