While it may be way too early to start naming any show a contender for “Best Comedy of 2011,” it’s practically a given that North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theatre’s production of Don’t Dress for Dinner will be in the running. This twisted tale of deception between couples draws the audience in right away and keeps it enthralled all the way through. The story begins when Bernard’s (Tom Barbieri) secret weekend rendezvous with his mistress, Suzanne (Sharon Galuzzo), gets thwarted thanks to a change in his wife, Jacqueline’s (Lision Binion), plans. Jacqueline, by the way, is having an affair of her own with her husband’s best pal and additional weekend guest, Robert (Ryan Ladue). When the cook, Suzette (Mary Beth Hoots) is mistaken for the mistress, the story gets even crazier. Confused already? Rest assured that director Brian Lord somehow manages to tell this crazy story without baffling the audience.
While each character shines in his or her own right, Hoots’ Suzette really stands out. She is effortlessly funny, switching easily from a purposefully-contrived French accent into Southern twang, and possesses a rare knack for physical comedy. Ladue’s slightly befuddled, slightly slimy, but basically likable Robert has some genius comic moments of his own. The over-the-top costumes designed by Kelly Taylor, including a dominatrix outfit and a skirt that turns into an oh-so-slutty dress, only serve to add to the hilarity of the performance.
Don’t Dress For Dinner charms viewers with its puttering plays on words, its completely likable cast, and its incredibly spacious and detailed converted farmhouse set. The humor here is clever – even when things get ridiculous – and carefully avoids anything overly hokey. Audience members will laugh as Robert grows drunker and drunker throughout the night and as Bernard changes his ruined shirt again and again, but they’ll also ponder deeper questions about relationships and trust. This is the perfect comedy for the thinking man.