Hubby wants to shag his mistress, needs to get Wifey out of the house. Wifey discovers that a Cute Young Thing is coming over to cook dinner (suspicious, that). Then Wifey learns that her own lover — conveniently enough for our plot, he’s Hubby’s Best Pal — will also soon be arriving.
The name of the game in *Don’t Dress for Dinner,* then, is Mutual Deception: Wifey and Hubby are each trying to get some quick nookie before the other finds out.
But they don’t get much nookie. And what they do get isn’t quick in, er, coming.
But that’s in the nature of farce: frustrations, complications, recriminations, all in good fun.
Playwright Marc Camoletti’s character manipulation is almost algebraic: A matched with C is much naughtier than A matched with B, especially if D takes an interest in both B and C.
Once the cook goes through pretending to be not the cook but an actress, or else someone’s niece, or else somebody’s mistress — and just before she goes back, drunkenly, to being a cook again — playgoers are going to find their intellects disengaged, unhinged. When plots and counterplots are this convoluted, you can’t figure them out, at least not in the moment. So turn off your brain: You’re just along for the ride.
It’s like playtime for adults who may once have had a lascivious thought or two (which is to say, all of us).
As Bernard the Hubby — who’s always *thisclosetogettingcaught* — Scott Miller is particularly good at quicksilver changes from pretend-contentment to anguish: “Oh, good,” he smiles, brightly; “Oh, God,” he moans, miserably.
As Jacqueline the Wifey — sometimes scorned, so beware the hell of her fury — Leigh Sandness snakes an arm up a column, strikes poses and gets all raspy-voiced in indignation. But she doesn’t usually overdo it, which is important.
Comedy’s funniest when the actors play it seriously. For them, the stakes are high, and mugging for comedic effect just won’t do. It’s for those of us in the audience to giggle at what fools these lecherous mortals be.
So in the opening scene, when Hubby and Wifey are making their separate tryst-arrangements, what if there were less in the way of guilty grimaces and anxious finger-chewing? We’d still get the point, and the characters would seem less like cartoons.
In the meantime, someone (like director Thomas Heppler) needs to tell Shawna Nordman (as the cook) that mincing hands and continual eyeglass-adjustment convey anxiety, and that while mincing hands and continual eyeglass-adjustment may be funny the first three times, they stop making sense once the cook gains leverage on the men and a position of relative power.
Nordman still makes a delightful drunk, though, and she gets to wear one outfit — designed by Dee Finan and her team of costumers — that’s just about perfect for farce: Right before our eyes, it transforms from way too prudish to nearly too revealing to just-about-right sexy.
David Baker’s set design stuffs paintings and sculptures by local artists into the interior of an exposed-timber French farmhouse that’s nearly as eccentric as the characters running around inside it.
At its two-and-a-quarter-hour length (including intermission), *Don’t Dress* could use a trim: Nobody can keep laughing that long, and a comedy with so much extended and multiple role-playing requires a lot of time for explaining who’s playing which role now. And you know what they say about explaining jokes.
The finale of *Don’t Dress for Dinner,* though, is clear enough. The husband has been sleeping around, and the wife knows it; the wife has been sleeping around, and the husband knows it; and at play’s end, they come to an understanding that in the midst of all this philandering, their marriage will go on.
Sounds like spouse-swapping to me — which, in light of recent events at the Civic, is interesting. Funny how what’s titillating and giggly on stage is grounds for firing people off it.
But then farce, for all its artificiality, is like that: It acknowledges our sexual waywardness, then contains those desires within societal norms. Hubby and Wifey acknowledge their flaws, keep them private and reconcile. Maybe even comedies have something to teach us.
*Don’t Dress for Dinner* • Thurs-Sat 7:30 pm, Sun 2 pm, through Jan. 30 • $21; $19, seniors; $16, students; $8, student rush • The Civic • 1020 N. Howard St. • spokanecivictheatre.com • 325-2507 or (800) 325-SEAT