By KATHIE ISAAC-LUKE
Sierra Repertory Theatre's production of "Don't Dress for Dinner," currently playing at the Fallon House Theater in Columbia, is a delightfully funny, fast-paced farce written by the late French playwright, Marc Camoletti.
Penned as a follow-up to Camoletti's immensely popular "Boeing Boeing," this play follows the further adventures of Bernard and Robert, who were central characters in the earlier play.
Bernard has married, but has not exactly settled down. He still has a roving eye and a penchant for scheming. Expecting that his wife will be away for the weekend, Bernard has invited his mistress to his country home, a charming refurbished farmhouse outside of Paris. He has pulled out all the stops for the romantic weekend, including hiring a Cordon Bleu chef to prepare a gourmet meal and inviting his old friend Robert to provide an alibi.
But his wife, Jacqueline, proves that two can play the same game, and does some scheming of her own. What Bernard doesn't know is that his wife has no intention of leaving because she and Robert are secret lovers and have planned their own tryst for the weekend.
Soon, a series of mistaken identities and surprising twists and turns unfolds in this intricately plotted and well-constructed farce.
When the cook and the mistress show up, the result is hilarious chaos. As one lie follows another and the cover up becomes more unwieldy, the mistress must masquerade as a cook, and the cook must masquerade as the mistress.
Guest director Peter DeBono, who has recently retired as Chair of the theater department at Monterey Peninsula College, brings over 40 years of experience to this production.
He acknowledges that he loves directing farces, and his skill and passion are evident. Under his direction the action moves along at a rapid clip, the timing is ideal and there is not a word wasted.
Equally contributing to the success of this production are six very talented actors whose comedic timing is perfect. Clayton B. Hodges, who played Bernard in SRT's production of Boeing Boeing two seasons ago, returns to play the philandering husband. Hodges is entirely convincing as the amiable, but self-centered character who fully expects to get away with his misdeeds.
Although he has set the events in motion, Bernard remains unruffled as things veer out of control.
Louis Lotorto gives a marvelous performance as Robert, the duplicitous friend. He must walk a fine line in his attempt to cover for Bernard while hiding his own treachery. He panics and sputters as he reacts to his impossible situation. At the end, when things must be sorted out, Lotorto's character offers a pressured and inventive explanation that is a tour de force.
SRT newcomer Emily Brooks is poised and assured as Robert's young mistress, Suzanne. Brooks is funny and appealing as she nearly ruins the dinner while pretending to be the cook. Later, she reveals her character's vulnerable side when she improbably bonds with Bernard's wife as they commiserate together.
In an intelligent and admirable performance, Kathleen DeSilva, also new to SRT, plays Bernard's exasperated wife. She manages to retain her dignity and gain the audience's sympathy, even though she is equally culpable in the shenanigans.
Eva Swan is remarkable in her role as Suzette, the charming French chef with a strong sense of business acumen. Swan demonstrates a knack for physical comedy and instills in her character airs and pretensions which provide some of the play's funniest moments.
In one inspired moment, Bernard and Robert help Suzette instantly transform her chef's uniform into a sleek cocktail dress. Suzette appears to be game for any challenge and has a great time outsmarting the other characters.
Nick Waaland gives a fine, energetic performance as George, Suzette's vigilant yet gullible husband. Arriving near the end of the play, George's appearance adds yet another surprise element.
The appealing country house is rendered with fine detail by guest set designer Randall A. Enlow.
Lighting design is by Peter FA Leibold VI. Guest artist Austin Rausch designed the contemporary costumes, which include the chic cocktail wear and filmy lingerie so integral to the overall effect.
With its sharp writing, first rate acting, and great timing, "Don't Dress for Dinner" is a seamless and irresistible comedic production.
After a precarious summer, I think we are all in need of a good laugh.
And, as the nonstop laughter from the audience on opening night demonstrated, this play delivers.
The play runs through Sept. 29 at the Fallon House in Columbia State Historic Park.
For reservations, call 532-3120 or visit www.sierrarep.org.