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Conejo Players Theatre that brought us last year’s hilarious Is He Dead? is back with another romp of hilarious proportions. Don’t Dress for Dinner is a bedroom farce not unlike many others you might have seen. Set in Upper State New York during the free loving 1970s, the show moves at an alarmingly breakneck speed full of laughter, delicious jokes at the sake of the English language, and complete confusion that’ll have you feeling the results of a whiplash (you’ll need a scorecard just to try and keep track of just what is happening).
Set in the gorgeous farmhouse conversion owned by Bernard (Kyle Johnson) and Jacqueline (Melissa Higashi) [designed by John Eslick], the two act play opens with Bernard counting down the seconds until his wife leaves to visit her mother so that he can enjoy a romantic weekend with his mistress – the beautiful actress Suzanne (Reign Lewis). Ah but things get decidedly complicated when Jacqueline discovers that Bernard’s best friend, Robert (Alex Carrasco), is also expected for dinner and what do you know! Robert is Jacqueline’s secret lover and she would like to spend some quality time with him under her husband’s roof now that he is back from Asia. Oh, the web we weave! So suddenly we have Bernard expecting his mistress Suzanne (“Suzie”) and Jacqueline expecting her lover Robert!
Bernard begs Robert to help him out and pretend that Suzie is in fact HIS mistress and of course Robert wants no part of that worrying it will ruin things with Jacqueline. Keeping up? Finally and most unwillingly Robert agrees and prepares to meet Suzie but what do you know but that the caterer arrives and her name is Suzette, “Suzie” for short too! Suzette (Olivia Heulitt) is confused by Robert’s request they pretend to be lovers but decides to use the situation to her monetary advantage.
Frankly none of the characters are likeable. But each of the actors does a good job with the material they are given to illicit the biggest laughs possible and keep the story moving nonstop. Carrasco and Heulitt have the best comedic timing and each earned the biggest laughs and yet it is Higashi who sparkles and provides a breath of fresh air in an underplayed role as the jealous wife and mistress.
As can be expected in a satire like Don’t Dress for Dinner, the mayhem only gets crazier and crazier as the night wears on with Suzette squeezing every last penny she can from the leading men, Suzanne having difficulties in accepting her new role for the weekend as the cook (since Suzette is pretending to be the mistress), Robert tries his hardest to keep track of all the lies while not alienating his lover, and the spouses start exploring feelings of jealousy. Thankfully things end as they should but not before some utter nonsense and bellyaching laughs. I shall not spoil it for you but there is a fabulous joke using a vintage corded telephone and play on words. As David Sheward (Backstage.com) once said, “a stage farce can only work if the direction and performances are real and honest within the insane framework” and Director John Eslick does a great job of “providing a sense of reality to connect the audience to the craziness of the situation without being buffoonish.”
In a day and age when we need chances to laugh, Don’t Dress for Dinner dishes up a fabulous evening out. Playing through 22 June 2019, this production will make for a great date night out.
Play: Don’t Dress for Dinner
Written by: Marc Camoletti
Adapted by: Robin Hawdon
Directed by: John Eslick
Set Designer: John Eslick
Producer: Don Johnson
Cast: Alex Carrasco, Melissa Higashi, Olivia Heulitt, Kyle Johnson, Reign LEwis and Nick Schmidt (Jeremy Hanna on 6/9).
Location: Conejo Players Theatre, 351 South Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks, California 91361 (Handicap Accessible)
Director John Eslick has made some changes to the dialogue and toned down the bawdy grappling of partners. Which still retaining the PG-13 rating, the show would most likely be fine for you to bring your older teens along with you. There is a VERY brief undressing scene when one character has her top removed but if you sit on the right side of the audience you’ll likely have the entire thing blocked from view by the other characters as I did on Thursday night. Also the same character’s dress/skirt rides up for comical effect but she is wearing spanx-like shorts underneath and two ladies are seen in their sleepwear and ample bosom is seen. There are a few uses of the Lord’s name in vain and other mild language choices and a couple characters get drunk on alcohol, but I would guess the rating is primarily due to the sexual context of the story-line.
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Disclaimer: I had my ticket comped for review purposes but all opinions are my own.