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REVIEW: Lovely Tangles in Don’t Dress for Dinner (Gremlin)

Maeve Moynihan & Grant Henderson. Photo by DreamFirstBorn Images.

French bedroom farce is in fine form in Gremlin Theatre’s production of Don’t Dress for Dinner.  French playwright Marc Camoletti wrote the original play, which was presented using Robin Hawdon’s English adaptation. Don’t Dress for Dinner was Gremlin’s very first production all the way back in 1998, and was selected as the first for the company’s new permanent home in Vandalia Tower. (The company had been without a permanent home since 2013.) Brian Balcom’s direction this comedy about infidelity and mistaken identity is flush with impeccable timing.

The plot starts to get tangled. Peter Christian Hansen (Bernard) and Melanie Wehrmacher (Jacqueline). Photo by DreamFirstBorn Images.
The premise of the play is not so simple.  Bernard is secretly cheating on his wife with his mistress Suzanne.  His wife, Jacqueline, is secretly cheating on Bernard with their best friend Robert.  When Jacqueline plans to go out of town for the weekend, Bernard plans the perfect evening at his home with his mistress.  His plan backfires, however, when he invites his best friend Robert to spend the weekend with him as a cover for his weekend plans.  Upon hearing that Robert is coming, Jacqueline promptly cancels her plans with the hope of having some private time with Robert.

If things aren’t complicated enough, Bernard has also arranged for a service to send over a cook named Suzette to prepare dinner for him and his mistress.  But Robert mistakes the cook as Bernard’s mistress and, to protect Bernard’s affair from exposure, he introduces the cook to Jacqueline as his girlfriend while Jacqueline must outwardly suppress her outraged that her lover has a lover.  Eventually, Bernard’s mistress shows up and has to pretend that she is the cook to keep up the charade.

As events progress toward their inevitable climax, the humor builds tenfold.  Maeve Moynihan as the real cook steals numerous scenes as the not-so-naïve help who recognizes financial opportunity when she sees it.  She varies her role to fit Bernard’s and Robert’s changing stories, but her versatility requires on-the-spot payments.  Peter Christian Hansen is fine as the hapless Bernard, who desperately wants to salvage an intimate weekend with Suzanne without endangering his marriage.  Grant Henderson as Robert has such wonderful facial expressions that he has little need to speak to convey his dismay at his predicament.  Henderson’s summary of the evening’s numerous events is the funniest moment in the play.  Both Sierra Schermerhorn (as Bernard’s mistress) and Melanie Wehrmacher (as Bernard’s wife) shine in a scene where both women support each other while conveying their outrage concerning Bernard’s cheating.

Gremlin’s new theatre space is in a great central location right off of Interstate 94 and Cretin/Vandelia Avenue.  With its thrust stage, the theatre space is reminiscent of Yellow Tree Theatre’s stage (Yellow Tree still boasts the most comfortable theatre seating in the Twin Cities).  Just blocks from the light rail, it would make a great venue for the Minnesota Fringe Festival. The sound quality was exceptional.

Don’t Dress for Dinner is an evening of sheer nonsense and utter delight.  It is perfect summer fare, and comes with a brewery courtyard next door just beckoning for a drink.

Bev Wolfe