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THEATER Don't Dress for Dinner
by Mary Shen Barnidge

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Playwright: Marc Camoletti, adapted by Robin Hawdon

At: British Stage Company at

the Royal George, 1641 N. Halsted

Phone: 312-988-9000; $49.50-$50.50

Runs through: Jan. 11, 2009

The foundation of Bedroom Farce is a reverence for discretion, acknowledged at all levels of society, manifested by a willingness to turn a blind eye to license, duplicity and vice as long as an appearance of decorum is preserved. This dubious moral code is more often observed in European cultures with a history of authoritarian governments than in the United States, where money is more likely to fuel the deception necessary to the genre. That said, Marc Camoletti's 1991 take on the venerable formula, currently playing at the Royal George, nevertheless brings some welcome changes to the old double-D cup of tea.

To be sure, the plot is rooted in the traditional assumptions of male fraternity, female gullibility and eccentric architecture: The setting is a country house in France, where Bernard plans to entertain his pampered mistress while his wife Jacqueline is away. The unexpected arrival of their American friend Robert, with whom Jacqueline is having a clandestine affair, brings an abrupt halt to this order of business, however—especially after the chef/cateress hired by Bernard to prepare dinner for his proposed tryst turns out to be a savvy Gallic gamine with mercenary inclinations and a name very similar to that of his paramour.

But what most distinguishes the array of physical gags—such as stalks, sneaks, stamps, stumbles, chases, surprise entrances and wrestling matches with telephone cords—from their pre-1965 counterparts is the heightened recognition of a sororal allegiance as unswerving as that practiced by the straying menfolk ( nowhere more vividly demonstrated than in the delightful moose-and-squirrel brawl, courtesy of fight choreographer David Woolley, where the rampage of the cook's jealous husband is curtailed by the three women together overpowering their bearlike adversary. ) Playgoers recalling earlier productions of Camoletti's play will also find much of the humorous wordplay tweaked with an ear to Yankee vernacular ( though the aural puns on the former status of the converted farmhouse's various rooms should be jettisoned ) .

The coast-to-coast cast acquits itself with verbal agility and athletic stamina under the direction of John Tillinger, assisted by dialect instructor Alan Wilder's razor-sharp French accent for the chipmunk-voiced Spencer Kayden, costume designer Virgil C. Johnson's breakaway server's uniform that magically transforms to a chic Parisian cocktail gown, and a technical team that keeps the madcap action progressing as swiftly and precision-timed as a Road Runner cartoon.

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