Farce of Don’t Dress For Dinner, a Relief (2012)

Sunday, April 22, 2012 North Jersey

by Robert Feldberg

English actor Ben Daniels, who’s spent his career doing “high-octane” serious roles, says there are great residual benefits to performing comedy.

“You don’t have to get yourself ready emotionally before every performance – thinking about awful things like your dead cats. You can relax.”

The play that’s bringing Daniels relief and pleasure is “Don’t Dress for Dinner,” an old-fashioned sex farce, now in previews for a Thursday night opening at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre. His cast mates include Patricia Kalember and Jennifer Tilly.

A portrayal of Daniels’ character, Robert, won a Tony Award for another English actor, Mark Rylance – in a different play.

I’ll explain. French writer Marc Camoletti wrote a number of similar plays with the same two characters, the awkward Robert and the suave Bernard, along with assorted wives and mistresses, rendezvous schemes and, of course, maddening roadblocks to consummation.

Rylance starred in the most successful of the farces, “Boeing-Boeing,” which was written in the early 1960s, and had a successful Broadway revival in 2008. “Don’t Dress for Dinner” debuted in Paris 25 years later (under the title “Pajamas for Six”).

Although it ran for six years in London in the 1990s, the play has never before been presented on Broadway.

“It’s not really a sequel [to ‘Boeing-Boeing],’ ” said Daniels, cheerily explaining the plot, which is set in a country house and involves, in addition to Robert and Bernard and Bernard’s wife, Jacqueline, a woman named Suzanne and another one named Suzette. Confusion, you’ll be shocked to hear, runs rampant.

Don’t play for laughs

“You just need to find the truth of the situation,” said Daniels, describing performing such hugger-mugger. “If you try consciously to get laughs, it won’t work.”

The play, he noted, has a very different look than the “Boeing-Boeing” revival, which had a sleek, mod, primary-colored appearance that recalled the ’60s.

“This is all very traditional,” he said, “a classic farce.”

Daniels, 47, has an impressive background in British theater and television, and has also done films.

He hasn’t worked much in the United States, but his one previous appearance on Broadway, in 2008, was memorable. He played the villainous Valmont in a revival of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” opposite Laura Linney.

His seductive portrayal of the scheming nobleman won him a Tony nomination.

So, why hasn’t he been back before this?

“No one asked me,” he said, until director John Tillinger called to invite him to appear in “Don’t Dress.”

Tillinger previously staged a production of the play in Chicago, almost four years ago.

Being in a farce, said Daniels, rather than a heavy drama, and having his days free from mental preparation, means he can visit comfortably with family and friends and enjoy New York.

“And I love doing the play,” he said. “Every night, it’s a roller-coaster ride, a thrill. I’m having a great time.”


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