'Don't Dress for Dinner': A low farce

Jennifer Tilly, Ben Daniels and Spencer Kayden in Jennifer Tilly, Ben Daniels and Spencer Kayden in the Roundabout Theatre Company's "Don't Dress for Dinner." Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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REVIEW

If we really must have a resurgence of low farce on Broadway -- and, alas, it appears we must -- please let Spencer Kayden get cast as often as possible. This delicious comic actress, not seen much around here since her priceless Little Sally 11 years ago in "Urinetown," has a deadpan combination of daffiness and discipline that brings a merry dignity to the most idiotic routines.

We know this because there is almost nothing but them in "Don't Dress for Dinner," which has the good sense to have Kayden -- with her prim mouth, her black caterpillar eyebrows and her stylish specificity of a dancer -- in the ensemble of director John Tillinger's mug-fest at the Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre.

She plays Suzette, the hired French cook who finds herself tangled in the supposedly humorous mess of liaisons among four British people in a richly appointed country home near Paris. And I mention this relatively minor character because, really, it feels good to start with something upbeat.

The play is by Marc Camoletti, the prolific Frenchman whose 1962 bachelor-pad sex farce, "Boeing-Boeing," was mysteriously adored on Broadway in 2008. At least, that was directed by comic ace Matthew Warchus and included a dreamy hoot of a performance by the virtuosic Mark Rylance.

That wasn't my idea of a spree, either, but it seems like Shakespeare compared with its sequel. Bernard (Adam James) and wife Jacqueline (the admirably serene Patricia Kalember) are each secretly planning an extramarital fling. He has invited friend Robert (Ben Daniels) as a distraction, not knowing his buddy is having a thing with his wife.

Bernard is expecting a visit from his "actress-model" -- played with game, smeary voluptuousness by Jennifer Tilly. She is named Suzanne. Note the similarity to the name of the cook, as if you could miss it.

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Tillinger, who used to be a specialist in the dry absurd wit of Joe Orton, subscribes here to the comic theory of hard-strain, in which jittery knees express boffo anxiety and sputtering consonants suggest the riot of a compromising position ahead. Every time Bernard mentions his "actress-model," he makes what appears to be the universal gesture for humongous breasts.

The first-rate designs -- set by John Lee Beatty, costumes by William Ivey Long -- are handsome. Before each act, we get to enjoy '60s pop songs in French, especially, in what we should have taken as a warning, "Hit the Road Jack."


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WHAT "Don't Dress for Dinner"

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WHERE American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St., Manhattan

INFO $67-$117; 212-719-1300; roundabouttheatre.org

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BOTTOM LINE Lame sex farce badly done

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