Lawrence Toppman

‘Don’t Dress’ offers light plot, madcap presentation

Three women (Vanessa Ore, Cat Rutledge and Heather Baynes, left to right) can’t decide what to make of a potential suitor (Stuart Jonap) in “Don’t Dress for Dinner.”
Three women (Vanessa Ore, Cat Rutledge and Heather Baynes, left to right) can’t decide what to make of a potential suitor (Stuart Jonap) in “Don’t Dress for Dinner.” Bill Giduz

Like a soufflé, a farce has five simple elements: rapid entrances and exits, a desire (usually lust) taken to absurd lengths, confusion of identities, a growing sense of peril and a happy ending that narrowly averts disaster.

And like a soufflé, you have to let it cook for just the right amount of time. Go too fast, and you end up with a mess. Let it sit too long, and it collapses.

Davidson Community Players presents a farce most summers at Duke Family Performance Hall on the Davidson College Campus, and familiarity has bred expertise. “Don’t Dress for Dinner” follows the template and delivers the laughs in Marc Camoletti’s script, which Robin Hawdon adapted from French to English.

Tim Ross directed “with special assistance from Marla Brown” (says the program), but having two cooks didn’t spoil this broth. Experienced farceurs and newcomers blend onstage in a pageant of hormonal lunacy.

Charting the plot of a Camoletti farce is like giving directions through a labyrinth. But briefly: Bernard (Matt Merrill) has invited mistress Suzanne (Vanessa Ore) home for a weekend, thinking wife Jacqueline (Cat Rutledge) will be visiting her mother. He has also found out that old friend Robert (Stuart Jonap) will be passing through and invited him to stay. All three will eat a catered dinner cooked by Suzette (Heather Baynes), a cordon bleu chef.

Jacqueline, who has become Robert’s lover, now decides to stay home herself. Bernard pretends that Suzette is actually Robert’s mistress and Suzanne is the cook, infuriating Jacqueline. Many sprays of seltzer and dousings with sauce later, George (Troy Ison) enters to play a small but crucial role I won’t describe.

Camoletti, who reportedly wrote 40 plays, used these types over and over. In “Boeing-Boeing,” his masterpiece, Bernard deceives fiancee Jacqueline with other women, while old pal Robert takes the heat off Bernard. These three names appear in all of his major plays; the idea of a mistress invited to a house where the wife doesn’t leave shows up multiple times.

Perhaps he was lazy. Perhaps he was, like Hollywood, remaking a successful formula. Perhaps he was saying all human beings are identical, acting out the same ridiculous situations whatever the setting. But Camoletti knew how to cook these soufflés, and Davidson Community Players knows how to serve them.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Don’t Dress for Dinner’

Husbands, wives, lovers and a chef get entangled in Marc Camoletti’s farce.

WHEN: Through July 26 at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Duke Family Performance Hall, Davidson College Campus.

RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes.

TICKETS: $24 (seniors $22, students $12) in advance; $3 more at the door.

DETAILS: 704-892-7953; davidsoncommunityplayers.org.

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