by Shirley Lorraine
Mayhem takes over Conejo Stage
Audiences can count on Conejo Players in Thousand Oaks to make going to the theater fun. Their current production of Don’t Dress for Dinner pulls laughs from beginning to end in a fast-paced, try-to-keep-up storyline of infidelity, alibis and misunderstandings.
Written by French playwright Marc Camoletti, the play was adapted for British audiences and finally, for Americans. Conejo Players director and set designer John Eslick has taken the script a step further by relocating the setting to New York, circa 1970’s which works extremely well. The 70’s was a ménage of bad clothes, high hair and exploratory morals, all of which keeps the audience in stitches throughout.
Bernard (Kyle Johnson) and Jacqueline (Melissa Higashi) portray a married couple who live in a converted farmhouse in upstate New York. The living room was once a barn, the kitchen a chicken coop and connected rooms feature a cow shed and a piggery, now serving as bedrooms. The layout and style of the house itself adds to the comedy.
Both harbor a secret. Jacqueline is scheduled to visit her mother when she finds out that Bernard has invited his best friend, Robert (Alex Carrasco) for the weekend to supply an alibi for him so that he can invite his mistress Suzanne (Reign Lewis).
However, Jacqueline and Robert are having an affair of their own and when Jacqueline learns Robert is coming, she quickly cancels her plans to go away which in turn skews Bernard’s plans. A cordon bleu trained chef named Suzette (Olivia Heulitt) is hired to provide a sumptuous dinner but quickly becomes ensnared in an endless charade of mixed-up identity, causing mounting confusion all around. No fool, she plays along – for a price.
When Suzanne finally arrives, she is thought to be the cook and shuffled to the kitchen which results in a less than perfect dinner. Trying their best to salvage the weekend, the couples and the real cook build on the lies to a hysterical degree. Last, but not least, the cook’s husband George (Nick Schmidt) appears to bring the evening’s mayhem to a conclusion.
The cast is a tight ensemble which handles the pace and non-stop challenge of keeping their lies straight very well. Kyle Johnson and Melissa Higashi pull off the kitsch of the 70’s beautifully via their wardrobe and attitudes, and, in Higashi’s case, the high hair. Definitely an era of notable fashion.
The others are dressed in more generic era clothing, giving the lead roles the spotlight. While Suzanne’s big blonde “do” is character appropriate, her facial expressions are often hidden by her curls. Too bad, as she has some looks that shoot clear messages without words.
Director Eslick and the entire cast have captured playwright Camoletti’s sense of high frivolity, desires, resignations and anxieties for our enjoyment. And we shall. Don’t Dress for Dinner provides a worthwhile evening filled with laughs. Go and enjoy.
Don’t Dress for Dinner continues through June 22. Performances are Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. and one Thursday (6/6) at 8 p.m. Reservations are recommended. Seating is open. Tickets available at www. ConejoPlayers.org. (805) 495-3715 and at the door.