“Don’t Dress for Dinner” Takes Classic Farce to a New Level

Matthew Conlon and Andrew Botsford during a rehearsal of the Hampton Theater Company production of "Don't Dress for Dinner" at the Quogue Community Hall. Michael Heller photo

Ok, so here’s the set up: Bernard and Jacqueline, a less-than-happily married couple, are both having secret affairs. When Jacqueline announces plans to go away for the weekend to visit her mother, Bernard conspires to have a romantic weekend at home with his mistress, Suzanne.

But he needs an alibi, so healso invites his best friend, Robert, to stay for the weekend and has even hired a Cordon Bleu chef to cater the evening.When Jacqueline learns that Robert is coming for the weekend, she abruptly cancels her trip, because, unbeknownst to Bernard, Robert is her secret lover.

Are you following this so far? Good, because the change of plans sends Bernard into a panic. When Robert arrives, Bernard asks him to pretend that Suzanne is Robert’s mistress. But Robert mistakes Suzette, the chef, for Suzanne, making Jacqueline extremely unhappy and a highly complicated dinner even more of a mess.

Confused? Good… you should be and that’s just the way French playwright Marc Camoletti planned it in “Don’t Dress for Dinner,” a farcical comedy of epic proportions.

The play, which comes with a liberal dose of slapstick, a peppering of mistaken identities and a bushel full of well-kept secrets, was a hit when it premiered in Paris in the late 1980s, running for more than two years. After being translated into English by Robin Hawdon, “Don’t Dress for Dinner” ran for another six years in London at the Apollo and Duchess Theaters. It has since played in theaters all over the United States, including on Broadway in 2012.

“Don’t Dress for Dinner” also happens to be the next production for the Hampton Theatre Company (HTC), running May 24 through June 10 at Quogue Community Hall. The script is in good hands with HTC’s George A. Loizides, who directs the show and has seen the play three times — including in London in 1995.

“My wife and I laughed hysterically,” he said.

While watching the fast paced antics of “Don’t Dress for Dinner as the various players try to keep the ruse alive is great fun for the audience, Loizides confesses that it can be confounding for a director and the cast.

“It’s pretty complicated,” admitted Loizides in an interview with the Expresstwo weeks ago. “Things switch back and forth very quickly. The actors have to know what lie they’re telling.”

Keeping track of lies is just the beginning. Actors must also have precision timing so that entrances and exits work seamlessly.

“Directing every play has its challenges. With every one, you go through a period where things are kind of rough,” said Loizides. “Part of the challenge is being able to smooth out the roughness.”

“Being that it’s farce, it’s full of the standard elements of exaggerated action, fast movement — big and bold, so to speak,” he added. “Luckily, I’m working with the A-team, so even though it’s difficult and we have some things to work out in rehearsal, I know we’ll get there.”

That “A-team” of HTC actors includes long-time company member and president of the HTC board Andrew Botsford as Bernard, fellow board member Rosemary Cline as his wife Jacqueline, Matthew Conlon as Robert, Rebecca Edana as the mistress Suzanne, Amanda Griemsmann as the cook Suzette and Sam Yarabek, an actor new to the HTC stage, as George, Suzette’s husband.

Loizides explains that though “Don’t Dress for Dinner” is a play that the HTC board has considered in past seasons, it was initially hoping to do a Noel Coward play for this season. But when the rights to Coward weren’t available, Loizides suggested that he direct this play instead.

“I like doing comedy,” said Loizides, “and this is one I’ve been looking at.”

Most directors will tell you, directing farce-filled plays like “Don’t Dress for Dinner” is akin to putting together a massive jigsaw puzzle. Though the completed picture can basically be seen by the words on the script, working through the blocking of how each of those pieces will fit together while moving actors on a stage is a hugely complicated task, and one that Loizides relishes.

“For me, the fun is working out the farcical situations and the action,” said Loizides. “That’s my brand of humor. The direction is about getting the right pacing. Every actor works their own way, but hopefully, they will see what the director is trying to do in moving it a certain direction.”

“At this point, we’re digging into working out a lot of the gags, the routines, the switchbacks. Once we get past this and polishing, then it will be moving rather quickly,” he said.

“I think it’s much harder than a serious play … People think comedy is easy, but it’s not.”

Hampton Theatre Company’s production of Marc Camoletti’s bedroom farce “Don’t Dress for Dinner” runs May 24 to June 10 at the Quogue Community Hall, 125 Jessup Avenue, Quogue. Shows are Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. with an additional matinee on Saturday, June 9 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 adults, $25 seniors ($20 for under 35 and $10 students under 21).

Local libraries are offering theater packages for the show. The Rogers Memorial Library and the Westhampton Free Library are both offering a package on Thursday, May 31 with dinner at Stone Creek Inn in East Quogue at 5 p.m., followed by the 7 p.m. The cost for dinner (including tax and tip) and show is $60. To reserve, send a check for $60 per person to Hampton Theatre Company, PO Box 400, Quogue, NY 11959. Reference “May 31 dinner/theater event” and include name, address, phone number and email address. Reservations and payment required by May 26.

The Hampton Bays Public Library has a dinner package on Friday, June 1 at 1 North Steakhouse in Hampton Bays at 5 p.m., followed by the show at 7 p.m. The cost is $60. To register, call the Hampton Bays Library at (631) 728-6241.

The Quogue Library’s dinner package on Thursday, June 7 is at The Quogue Club at 5 p.m., followed by the 7 p.m. show. The cost is $70. Register by calling the Quogue Library at (631) 653-4224 ext. 101.

Finally, Hampton Theatre Company offers a lunch package on Saturday, June 9 at The Quogue Club at 12:30 p.m. followed by the 2:30 p.m. show. The cost is $60. To reserve send a check for $60 per person to Hampton Theatre Company, PO Box 400, Quogue, NY 11959. Reference “June 9 lunch/ /theater event” and include name, address, phone number and email address. Reservations and payment required by June 5.