A Profusion of Confusion in Don't Dress for Dinner at RVP

Tavis Kammet as Robert, David Kester as Bernard and
Sondra Putnam as Jacqueline in Don't Dress for Dinner

Ross Valley Players just opened their 82nd season with a French farce, Don't Dress for Dinner by Marc Camoletti and adapted by Robin Hawdon.

The action takes place inside a lovely renovated barn, beautifully designed by Jay Lasnik which is owned by a fabulously snobbish, big city married couple. When the play opens, Bernard pulls the ear of an antler by the center door and a whole bar opens up downstage right to the tune of the French national anthem.  Bernard played by David Kester, is eagerly looking forward to his weekend liaison with his mistress Suzanne, played with a sexy French accent by Marianne Shine. He figures that he's hatched the perfect plan when he invites his friend, Robert played by Tavis Kammet, to complete his alibi.  Much to Bernard's dismay, his wife Jacqueline played by Sondra Putnam, who was going away to visit her mother for the weekend, decides to stay home because she has a plan of her own when she discovers that Robert will be there.  Mix in a cook named Suzette played by Melissa Claire and add one jealous husband played by Casey Bair and you end up with a delicious comedy of false identities and misunderstandings.

The pace of this play is frenetic and fun.  The skillful hand of experienced Director, Richard Ryan, is evident in the clever ways he bounces the characters off each other and around Jay Lasnik's beautiful set.  All of the actors do an admirable job of keeping tabs on all the convolutions of the plot.  Sondra Putnam makes an amusingly jaded Jacqueline playing the role of the adulteress housewife with a smirk and a touch of sass.  David Kester as Bernard is delightfully convincing as her bumbling and bewildered husband.  Melissa Claire as Suzette, the spitfire of a cook, is hilariously manipulative as she realizes the advantages of pretending to be a high-class mistress and begins to demand expensive alcohol and mock her upper class employers at every opportunity. Tavis Kammet as Robert stammers and kvetches through the awkwardness of his situation but somehow still manages to come across as debonair.  His performance was truly impressive in that it seemed completely natural despite the complexity of what he has to act out.  Marianne Shine makes a wonderfully sexy and beautiful addition to the mix as Suzanne, snapping like a humiliated diva which her character is.  Finally, Casey Bair, in his surprise appearance as Suzette's husband, who is comically jealous.  

Technically, the set decorations, costumes and lighting design were very good.  Special recognition should be given to Michael A. Berg for an especially inspired costume design.  Suzette's off beat character is revealed instantly by her opening outfit, a succession of shirts worn by the oft-stained Bernard becomes increasingly less suitable, and the eventual nightwear of all the characters, especially the luscious Suzanne, are nicely revealing of character.  Don't Dress for Dinner is a play with broad audience appeal and a lot of laughs.  

Don't Dress for Dinner plays September 16-October 16 at Ross Valley Players Barn Theatre, Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross, CA.  Thursday performances are at 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. For reservations, call 415-456-9555 or go online at rossvalleyplayers.com for more information. 

Coming up next at Ross Valley Players will be To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's enduring story translated to the stage by Christopher Sergel and directed by James Dunn, November 11-December 11, 2011.

Flora Lynn Isaacson