Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Theater review: Don’t Dress for Dinner is a farce to behold at Frisco Discovery Center
Here a date, there a date, everywhere a secret date.
FRISCO Upon entering the lobby of the Frisco Discovery Center for the evening's performance of Don't Dress for Dinner, one is immediately struck by the joviality of the patrons. This is, no doubt, due to the pleasant welcome from the theater staff. A few members of the Board of Directors greet patrons and make pleasant small talk, ensuring that the audience is appreciated even before the performance begins. Similarly, the introduction to the evening's performance of Don't Dress for Dinner is given graciously with most heartfelt praise for the theater's supporters and advertisers. Perhaps this is not surprising given that not long ago, FCT hadn't any doors to open.
In 2010, after three years of darkness consequent to the city tearing down its initial space, Frisco Community Theatre reopened in the Frisco Discovery Center, just south of the Cinemark on Main Street in Frisco. FCT's new space is a modern building decorated in shades of red, yellow, teal, and black with stacked stone accents. Hosting not only the theater but also the Frisco Art Gallery and Sci-Tech Discovery Center, the facility is a fetching amalgam of science and art with gallery works hung throughout the lobby of the theater to furnish some interesting perusing prior to the show.
The play itself, Don't Dress for Dinner, is a two-act farce originally written by French playwright Marc Camoletti and heavily adapted for English speaking audiences by well-known English playwright Robin Hawdon, who film enthusiasts might recognize from the 1970 film When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. (He's the one in the loincloth throughout its entirety.)
Set in a well-appointed residence outside of Paris, the plot details Bernard's botched plan for a weekend rendezvous with his mistress, Suzanne. His arrangement is made possible by packing his wife, Jacqueline, off to visit her mother and an alibi provided by his old friend, Robert. When Jacqueline discovers that Robert is on his way, however, she quickly changes her plans in order to have a secret tryst of her own. Throw in the untimely arrival of Suzette, the cook who Bernard has hired for the evening and who Robert mistakes for Suzanne, and we have a perfect collision course of subterfuge and mistaken identities.
Subtlety is certainly not required, and sometimes not even of benefit, when performing farce, and the FCT cast of Don’t Dress for Dinner certainly makes no effort to underplay. Sue Wagner as Suzette gives the most exaggerated performance, becoming increasingly believable as her character becomes progressively more inebriated throughout the show. Sherry Etzel gives an excellent and more understated performance as the simultaneously scheming and suspicious Jacqueline. Kathleen Cindulla is likewise pleasing as the wide-eyed, exasperated, and often flirtatious Suzanne. Mike Pirtle is believable as Suzette's unassuming husband, George, who happens to walk in at the end of his wife's confounding evening. Chris Berthelot and Bob Zak, as Bernard and Robert respectively, are both fine actors, but, during the show I attended, gave performances that were slightly uneven. Both acts begin a bit stiffly with the vitality of their characters not quite seeming to reach the actors' eyes. However, as the actors relax more into their characters as each act progresses, the performances become warmer and more encompassing.
The Black Box Theatre itself is a comfortable space featuring a thrust stage that conveys greater intimacy between the players and the audience, yet also provides a distinct challenge to set designers and directors since the audience exists on three sides of it. For the most part, this challenge was met by Director Sue Birch and Set Designer/Fight Choreographer Kevin Ash with a skillful use of space, well-planned blocking, and clever choreography that fully utilizes the actors' gifts for physical comedy. I never felt that I had missed a key point in the action, though a few of what are likely masterful tableaux are somewhat obscured from the audience by pieces of the set.
The set and costuming were a bit confusing, as the clothing seems to be from one decade and the set design from another. Still, both were very functional and did not distract from the overall performance. Costuming, in particular, was impressive, especially during a scene where the maid's uniform that Suzette donned for dinner had to be spontaneously transformed into a cocktail dress by Robert and Bernard.
Likewise, the props were well-chosen and amusingly employed. I particularly enjoyed the characters' use of the chess set on the coffee table. While their interest in the set was sometimes a bit magnified, I enjoyed noting which characters chose to play the game and which moves they make. More interesting were which characters chose to ignore the set entirely.
Overall, I appreciate Frisco Community Theatre's production of Don't Dress for Dinner. Yes, the performance suffers from some uneven timing, and, yes, the play suffers from some rough dialogue. But during the course of the play’s two-hour run time, I found myself laughing often and when it was over, I left with a big smile. I suspect you will too.
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