Monday, July 10, 2017

A Delightful "Don't Dress for Dinner"

The Gremlin's premieres a romantic farce in their first show in the shiny new space. 

Photo by DreamFirstBorn Images

How often do you see a screwball comedy on stage? 

I mean really think about it. Stand up comedy is having a renaissance, and venues like the Brave New Workshop have perfected the variety show format. But how often do you see a fictional, full story, straight up comedic piece performed by a theater group? Especially a true romantic comedy?

Like the sad state of comedy on film, it's rarer than you might think. For that reason, I'd highly encourage you to skip over to the Gremlin Theatre to check out their latest show Don't Dress for Dinner. Essentially a "Who's on First?" for romantic relationships, this silly caper will have you giggling without having to worry about being hit over the head with heavy themes.

Don't Dress for Dinner opens with a wife, Jacqueline, about to leave her husband Bernard for the weekend as she visits her mother. On her way out the door Jacqueline discovers that her secret lover (and Bernard's best friend) Robert is heading into town at that exact moment to bach it up over the weekend. Determined not to miss the fun, Jacqueline immediately changes her plans to stay in the house. The only problem is that Bernard has a secret too: he has invited his lover Suzanne to spend the weekend in the house for her birthday and ordered a caterer to make the event extra special. Mayhem ensues, however, because there are just too many damn secrets to have under the roof at one time. The players move in and out, each trying to hide their own devious plans. The cook arrives and is named Suzette, causing obvious confusion as Bernard tries to conceal his relationship with his real lover Suzanne (both of whom are nicknamed Suzy). One thing leads to another as lies continue to build and bubble into an unmanageable mess.

Photo by DreamFirstBorn Images

The cast is small but lively. Peter Christian Hansen is emphatic as Bernard, with a spritely step that is reminiscent of a very young Cary Grant. Melanie Wehrmacher is formidable as Jacqueline, providing a strong foil to the Sierra Schermerhorn's simpering, slutty, salacious (and stunning) Suzanne. Grant Henderson brings a posh modern feel to the two-faced Robert. The show's standout though is clearly Maeve Moynihan as the blue collar chef Suzette. Moynihan has a wonderfully bawdy accent and dialogue as Suzette, and her sly navigation of the intense shenanigans of the show were such a pleasure to watch. Mike Dolphin is perfectly suited to play Suzette's husband George, a giant, kindhearted blowhard whose abrupt appearance near the end of the show is the key to unraveling the web of lies spun by each character.

The set stays entirely placed inside Bernard and Jacqueline's living room, with basic but nice furnishings. The simple setting (and a strategically loaded bar cart) provide all the physical context we need for the whirlwind of intrigue on stage. Costumes change quite frequently between a number of wild physical fights, including sprays of club soda, dumped cocktails, and more. In fact, the whole cast almost does a striptease as the show goes on, beginning in nice business casual wear and devolving to some semblance of night dress/lingerie by the end. It goes with the feel of the unraveling plot and helps to break up the more bland stage settings.

Don't Dress for Dinner can be a little overwhelming and is the kind of plot line I might normally sniff at a bit, but I found myself laughing through almost the whole show. It's a little too long for a plot of this type - 90 minutes without intermission would be more than enough to cover the material, which gets a little exhausting by the end of this 2ish hour rendition - but still, Don't Dress for Dinner provided me with a pleasant, fun-filled way to enjoy the theater last weekend. The show does a great job of demonstrating the kind of ridiculous behaviors all couples can indulge in throughout a relationship, and both the ways this can be harmful and the ways it can also keep things a little exciting. Don't Dress for Dinner is a great date night show and something I'd love to see more of on stage and on screen - a true comedy. Make sure to head to the (sparkling, shiny, brand new!) Gremlin Theater space before Don't Dress for Dinner closes on July 30 to check it out. And while you're at it, order some brewskies from Lake Monster Brewing at intermission, which is just down the hall and the perfect hipster libation to pair with such a show. More information and tickets can be found by clicking on this link.

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