I hate to single out a performer as especially lame in this revival of Marc Camoletti’s French sex farce (adapted by Robin Hawdon), but the soda siphon is really subpar. The classic comedy prop ought to deliver a short, sharp and forceful jet of carbonated water to the victim’s face (or groin). But in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s tepid Don’t Dress for Dinner, the bottle spurts halfheartedly when Jacqueline (Patricia Kalember) sprays her philandering husband, Bernard (Adam James), and later douses Robert (Ben Daniels), with whom she’s having her own affair. Perhaps the cocktail accessory has been deflated by the rest of the cast, who hardly muster greater comic zip.
Was it really four years ago that Camoletti’s Boeing-Boeing brought the house down with howls of laughter, with Mark Rylance’s bizarre antics and the sight of color-coordinated stewardesses tumbling in and out of doors? Don’t Dress is technically a sequel, bringing back horny Bernard and comparatively guileless Robert for more girl trouble and elaborate deceptions. But this time, due to an uneven ensemble, uninspired direction and a too talky script, the farcical magic never materializes. And not for lack of an extravagantly silly plot: Bernard has invited his voluptuous mistress, Suzanne (Jennifer Tilly), to the house for the weekend. He’s also hired a cook, Suzette (Spencer Kayden), to cater. When Robert drops in and Bernard’s wife, smelling an affair, decides to stay, Suzanne and Suzette must impersonate each other—just for starters. Camoletti and Hawdon’s admirable machinery delights in ever-increasing numbers of far-fetched lies to keep the truth from Jacqueline.
You shouldn’t be aware of time passing during a farce. Although individual actors carve out genuinely funny moments—Daniels becomes amusingly flustered, Tilly is sexily brazen, and Kayden wields a dangerous deadpan—you mainly wait for this busy, bland meal to end, so you can get dessert someplace else.—David Cote
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