In that brief period between the age of peace, love (and one other thing I've forgotten because I grew up in the '60s), and the age of disco, there were a few years when people dressed to excess, believed white was a great color for living room furniture, and maybe, just maybe, took Hugh Hefner more seriously than he deserved.
And it is upon this canvas that Marc Camoletti's "Don't Dress for Dinner" is painted in Walnut Creek's production of the bedroom farce which opened this week. It's a perfect example of a take-no-prisoners comedy, where the wildly funny cast hardly pauses for breath, and expects the audience to follow suit, for fear they will miss something.
They will, too, since the show runs faster than a DMV line at quitting time, as Director Michael Butler and his fine-tuned comic cast dips into the playbooks of old time movie comics from Charlie Chase to Buster Keaton and slightly later funnyman Lou Costello in a successful crusade to do anything for a laugh.
It is, they will tell friends over post-play wine, not a particularly sophisticated sort of humor, just before confessing they laughed their nether regions off. The truth is, this rocket-fast piece of comedy gets the job done and keeps us all laughing and happy and shelters us, for awhile, anyway, from whatever seriousness we had on our minds when we walked in.
"Don't Dress" neither demands nor expects any more than this when the audience joins Bernard (Liam Vincent) and his spouse, Gabriella (Nika Ericson) at their stunningly converted farm house south of Paris, where Gabriella is about to head off for a weekend visit to her mom, and Bernard is quietly making plans to have his mistress Suzanne (Brittany Danielle) over to celebrate her birthday with an intimate catered dinner.
But, you know how it goes with the best-laid plans, beginning when his lifelong buddy Robert (Cassidy Brown) phones from the railroad station to say he's in town and the call is answered by Gabriella, who also happens to be Robert's mistress.
Upon learning Robert will be in town, Gabriella calls her mother to say she's come down with the flu, then tells her husband that his mother-in-law his too sick for company. With wife home and mistress en route, the ever-innovative Bernard asks his highly reluctant pal to pretend Suzanne is actually Robert's mistress, so Gabriella, wink, wink, won't be the wiser. Of course Bernard doesn't know a thing about Robert and Gabriella's relationship.
It still might have worked, though, if Suzanne rather than Suzette (Lyndsy Kail), the cook Bernard hired for the weekend, had been the first to show up. By the time Suzette arrives, everyone's drinking, everyone's confused -- and the first act hasn't even ended. At this point the weekend begins for real and quickly takes on the appearance of shipwreck survivors bobbing in the water during a storm at sea, and the whole thing becomes hilariously ridiculous. The men slip into their satin jammies and robes, and the women wear something a bit more comfortable, and brief, which could be why these sorts of plays are called sex farces.
While you are stuffing yourself with eye candy, the jokes are flying around like bats on a dark night, and the whole thing is getting funnier and funnier and the plot's getting more and more involved and time's passing faster than Superman's trip around the world.
It is quite simply a whole lot of fun and a wonderful way to spend an easy evening.
As with most Center Rep productions, the show is well done with Butler's excellent direction, Maggie Morgan's costumes, Eric Flatmo's sets and understated sound and lights by Matt Stines and Ray Oppenheimer.
'DON'T DREss FOR DINNER'
By Marc Camoletti, presented by Center Repertory Company
Through: Nov. 23
Where: Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Running time: 2 hours
Tickets: $36-$61; 925-943-7469, www.centerrep.org