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Stage Review: 'Don't Dress for Dinner' has fun with formality

Friday, November 20, 1998

By John Hayes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Some shows survive the test of time because of the enormous success of their playwrights' more popular scripts. Others ride the coattails of important New York productions or become pop culture classics in the wake of stellar film interpretations.

 
  Stage Review

'Don't Dress For Dinner'


WHERE: McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St.

WHEN: Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. through Dec. 6.

TICKETS: $10; 412-673-1100.

   
 

But Marc Camoletti's "Don't Dress for Dinner" is still around because it's just so darned doable. Any small, amateur company that can come up with a comfortable cottage setting, a few easy costumes and a half-dozen actors who can fake an English accent can tackle the fast-paced situational comedy about marital infidelity among Britain's upper crust.

Not every company can do it well, however. In the second production of its 38th season, the McKeesport Little Theater does a solid job of sorting out who's supposed to be sleeping with whom. Director Neil Keene keeps the sexual tension taut and the comedic timing sharp, throwing in occasional Americanisms that play well to the suburban crowd. The theme from "Green Acres" begins and ends each act, and the show opens with an "American Gothic" salute, complete with pitchforks and big, happy, toothless grins.

The play actually started out French, but Brit Robin Hawdon did the translation that holds the boards in the English-speaking world, and it sure feels like a typical British farce. The plot goes something like this: An eccentric couple hides their illicit liaisons until a complication arises leading to slapped faces, slammed doors and the absolute certainty that somebody will keep saying something quite quaint - in this case, "Who's getting pickled in the piggery?"

Somehow it all makes perfect sense, in a snobbish, elitist British sort of way, and the spiraling plot and caustic pace result in a few good belly laughs and several half-hearted titters.

J. Michael Stetor plays the stiff-lipped straight man whose impeccably planned romantic weekend with a young lover is spoiled when his scheming wife finds that his best friend is also visiting for the weekend. Stetor plays it oh so properly, even when his shirts are being soiled with water, vodka or cordon bleu and his character has to keep track of his own conspiratorial lies and convoluted logic.

His wife, played by Karen Stetor (from whom he is now divorced), is secretly having an affair with her husband's best friend and is thrilled with the sexual possibilities of his weekend visit. The emotional character segues from seductive to puzzled to positively bitchy, and the actress keeps it all on track without wavering from her educated Oxford dialect.

David Hyser is less convincing as the befuddled friend who's forced to keep several series of secrets. He's at his best playing against Nancy Mimless as an opportunistic Cockney cook who is mistaken for the lover and paid off by almost everyone to perpetuate a complicated collection of lies. At the center of many of the conflicts, Mimless juggles two accents and evolving relationships with almost every member of the cast. A lesser actor would have made the complex comedy seem incomprehensible.

Veronica Mars and Bill Kersting occasionally slow the pace as the lover and the cook's husband, respectively.

Fortunately, the strength of the central characters propels the story toward its inevitable door-slamming, bed-warming, lip-kissing conclusion.



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