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Don't Dress for Dinner
At Upper Canda Playhouse, Morrisburg, ON, July 6-22, 2001
Unfortunately DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER, now running at Upper Canada Playhouse, is not the delightful romp it could be. Nobody should have to work that hard to be funny. I've seen the play in other productions, and the script is lots of fun. However in this frenetically paced and overly shouted version not only a great deal of the humor is lost, but also any semblance of believability. True, the audience laughs, but they're laughing at the frantic speed instead of at the play.
The second half of Act II began to seem like a contest as to who could talk faster. The wrap-up of the plot was so fast it became unintelligible. Director Donnie Bowes obviously isn't aware of the maxim that pace is not speed - it's knowledge. It seems Mr. Bowes doesn't believe that realistic acting is funny. When farce is played at this break-neck pace, it's impossible to act. As in MY DARLING JUDITH the actors have no place to go for a dramatic climax, as they begin the play at top speed and over-projecting. By the way, here's another maxim for Mr. Bowes-vocal energy isn't the same thing as shouting.
With Upper Canada's first production, I though perhaps it was the actors. Having now seen two plays, it's obvious that it's the style of the director. The actors are doing what they've been directed to do, and doing it to the best of their ability. Garfield Andrews and Bruce Tubbe are excellent physical comedians. I know that both Mr. Tubbe and Edward Leefe are better actors than it would appear, as I saw them both last year in THE FOURSOME. Mr. Andrews is very appealing onstage and is obviously experienced. I'd like to see him again under better circumstances.
As in MY DARLING JUDITH, the women seem a bit more rooted in reality. Things get slightly calmer in Act II during the scene between Elizabeth Goodyear as Jacqueline and AnnaMarie Frances Lea as Suzanne. The slower pace allowed us to enjoy the characters, dialogue and misunderstandings that are the basis of the play's humor.
The set and lighting by Jonathan Peters and the costumes by Alex Amini look really good. I'm always amazed at what a good physical production can be created on such a tiny stage.
But all in all, I was terribly disappointed in the production. It seems as if under the Artistic Direction of Donnie Bowes, Upper Canada Playhouse has degenerated into doing typical third-rate summer stock. He may be filling the seats, but not with knowledgeable theatre goers. It's sad to see this happen, as last year's season under the aegis of a different Artistic Director was of unusually high quality.
On a scale of one to five, the Upper Canada Playhouse production of DON'T DRESS FOR DINNER gets two apples. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.