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Valley Players of Ligonier present screwball comedy 'Don't Dress for Dinner'

| Friday, Feb. 7, 2003

Bernard is a happy man. He has packed his wife, Jacqueline, off to visit her mother ... and has invited his mistress, Suzanne, to share in a passionate weekend tryst. The plan: a catered dinner for "Suzy" at his country home. The cover: Best friend Robert has been invited to provide an "alibi" for the clandestine rendezvous.

Bernard (Buddy Helterbran) has conceived a brilliant plan, really. What could go wrong?

Well, let's suppose Robert doesn't know why he's been invited. And, just for fun, let's suppose Robert and Jacqueline are secret lovers, and upon learning Robert is coming to visit, Jacqueline (Mary Ann Weimer) cancels her trip.


To complicate the increasingly complicated, let's also suppose gourmet chef Suzette is mistaken for the mistress, and the real mistress, Suzanne ... remember her• ... is forced to be the cook. And she can't cook. Yikes.

Stay tuned for ensuing mayhem.

Presented by the Valley Players of Ligonier, Marc Camoletti's "Don't Dress for Dinner" is a fast-paced farce filled with delicious deceit - made infinitely more complicated by untruths run amok.

"Yes, the plot is extremely convoluted," says Johnstown director Tom Moore. "In fact, when I read it the first time, I had to sit down and actually make a family chart so I could figure out who was with whom. And the lies. Even toward the end of the show, when you start to think there has finally been a resolution of all the lies, they start all over again."

The plot twists and turns can be equally confusing to those onstage. After all, who can keep track amid the rampant duplicity?

"That can be very difficult," admits Michael Webb, of Ligonier, who plays Robert. "What works for me is when we run through it each night, I just pretend like I'm starting over every time, and act like I have no idea what's going on ... no matter what. Basically, if you seem surprised, that's usually a good reaction because that's what the entire play is about."

Greensburg actress Vicki Baird uses the same approach in her portrayal of mistress Suzanne.

"I come into the house just like I'm coming into it for the very first time. And, each time, I pretty much have to forget I know what I know," she says, laughing. "This play has been difficult for a lot of us because of all the confusion."

Of course, Camoletti's mastery of subterfuge doesn't help hold the chaos in check, either.

"The characters have to constantly remember where they are in this cycle of lies," Moore says. "For example, Suzette (Ruth Raymond) has four different identities in this play. She is someone's wife and she's also there to cater the dinner. Then, she also becomes someone's niece and someone's mistress. So, she has to remember who she is all the time. Depending on who she's with, she's a different person."

While farcical pratfalls and double-takes are a lot of fun for the audience, Moore emphasizes a play of this genre requires exceptional timing on the part of the actors.

"Comic timing is very difficult to teach. So, I look for someone who has a sense of that already," he says. "And, I also look for someone who can put a lot of physical energy into what they're doing. In farce, typically, you're not just standing there saying funny lines. Your whole body has to get into the act."

Baird agrees.

"You really have to be right on the money with the timing just to make it all come out right," she notes, adding, "Especially with this play. We're up onstage trying to figure out how we're supposed to react to things because it is so confusing."

An understatement, to be sure.

"First of all, it's very hard to remember which cue leads to what piece of information. And, it's integral that the audience only gets to find out certain things at certain times," Webb says. "So, the timing is critical. You need to know that you have to cut someone off, or that you should be cut off, and if you aren't cut off when you're supposed to be, then you have to come up with something to say."

OK, and if someone should flub that all-important cue?

"Well, that's the true test of how good an actor you are and how well you can cover," Webb says. "As long as nobody says anything that should come at the end of the play, everything usually works out pretty well."

In terms of humor, Moore maintains "Don't Dress for Dinner" isn't about condoning adulterous behavior, but rather, poking fun at an absurd situation.

"I often think of a quote, 'And if I laugh at any mortal thing, it is that I may not weep,'" he says. "You can cry at these people and their pathetic attempts to cover their lies, or you can simply laugh and say, 'It's so ridiculous that people would go to this extent to cover up their infidelities and their shortcomings.' As long as we understand that this isn't funny in a good-thing-to-do way, just in how ridiculous it is. ... It's definitely a good laugh. And, at this time of year, we all need a good laugh."

"It's fantastic. One of the funniest things I've read in a long time, in fact," Webb adds. "I'm usually able to keep a straight face with most things I do, But, in these rehearsals ... well ... I'm sure I'll be fine come show night. But, this play really keeps me in stitches."

'Don't Dress For Dinner'

  • 8 p.m. today and Saturday; Feb. 14 and 15; 2:30 p.m. Feb. 16
  • Ligonier Theater, 210 W. Main St., Ligonier
  • $12; $10 for senior citizens and students
  • (724) 238-6514, ext. 2

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