Early on in “Don’t Dress for Dinner,” a British sex farce at Broadway’s American Airlines Theatre, one has to wonder how complicated the plot can get.
The answer: extremely.
A wild evening unfolds in the living room of a house in the English countryside, and plenty of action is planned for the weekend. Jacqueline (Patricia Kalember, “thirtysomething”) is about to leave to visit her mother. Her husband, Bernard (Adam James, “Dr. Who”), can’t push her out of the door fast enough. He has a liaison planned with his mistress, Suzanne (Jennifer Tilly, “Bullets Over Broadway,” “Bride of Chucky”).
The married couple is polite yet testy with each other. Just before she’s to leave, Jacqueline answers the phone and finds out Bernie has ordered a caterer to cook dinner. He tells her Robert (Ben Daniels, Broadway’s “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” TV’s “The last Days of Lehman Brothers”), his best friend, is stopping by.
Jacqueline is far too interested in this development. It turns out that she and Robert are having an affair. Now that would be complicated enough. But it’s just the beginning.
Jacqueline cancels her plans to visit her mother so she can be around Robert. Bernard tells Robert the mess he’s in — his mistress is en route, thinking they have the house to themselves for the weekend, yet his wife won’t leave. Bernard wants Robert to pretend that Suzy is his lover. Since Robert is single, Bernard can’t understand why this should be an issue. But Robert is terrified of Jacqueline, with good reason: She’s a formidable woman.
The two friends argue and wind up entangled in a long phone cord — a terrific bit of physical humor even the smartest of phones cannot deliver. When the doorbell rings, it’s the chef, named Suzette (Spencer Kayden, Broadway’s “Urinetown,” “MADtv”), who also goes by Suzy.
As the wrong Suzy — this one is no-nonsense, shrewd and petite — she immediately gets drafted into playing the lover, and from there it just gets more complicated.
By the time Suzy, the mistress, arrives in an obscenely expensive fur coat and poured into a dress, Suzy the chef has been persuaded — with lots of cash — to play the role of Robert’s girlfriend. At different times during the night, she is supposed to be his niece and his lover, and everyone is constantly slipping about the relationships.
Tilly, with her little girl voice and sexpot body, is great fun as the lover done wrong. She’s pressed into kitchen duty as the chef, but the kitchen is foreign to her, and she winds up combining the baked Alaska and fondue.
It’s a broad comedy, with plenty of physicality, and one end of the sofa is the place for everyone to fall, slide, stumble and somehow give in to gravity.
As good as the cast is, Kayden, as the chef, pretty much steals every scene. “Don’t Dress for Dinner” isn’t the sort of play that transforms the audience or has people quoting lines, but it’s a pleasant respite with a predictable, yet satisfying ending.