Don’t Dress for Dinner is a really fun British farce that fits in quite well with our contemporary Kenyan social scene where infidelity seems rife among both men and women.
Originally scripted in 1996 by the French playwright Marc Camoletti, it got translated into English and ran for six years on London’s West End. Revived in 2012, it went straight to Broadway and was even staged by Phoenix Players many years ago.
But it wasn’t revived in Nairobi until Washington Obwanda called Ben Tekee to come direct the play which was staged recently at Kenya Cultural Centre.
Tekee also had a cameo role in the comedy when he plays a boda-boda taxi driver who comes to the home of Bernard (Dominic Mutemi) and Jacqueline (Elizabeth Njoki) looking for his wife.
Suzette aka Suzi (Ileene Anyona) is a professional chef who Bernard had called to come cook for him and his girlfriend Suzanne (Linet Kivuva) while his wife is away looking after her ailing mom.
But from the moment Jackie picks up Bernie’s phone to receive his call, she knows something fishy is going on. Why is a catering service sending a chef to their house?
From then on, the lies begin to pile up, mainly from Bernie’s end. But also, from Jackie’s side since Bernie’s buddy Robert is also her secret lover.
So when he shows up, coming at Bernie’s request, Jackie is thrilled. She has already decided to stick around and see what’s happening with Bernie and the chef.
Bernie’s a fast talker and an imaginative cheater so intent on spending time with his sexy girlfriend that he corrals his best friend Robert into covering for him with Jackie so she won’t figure out that his plan was to spend the weekend alone with his side chick.
Unfortunately, when Bernie informs Robert that his role for the weekend is to be the lover of his girlfriend Suzi, so Jackie won’t suspect anything, Robert adamantly resists the plan.
But he also sees that if he refuses Bernie’s plan, his friend’s marriage will probably fall apart. But if he goes along with his buddy’s game, he’ll disillusion his girlfriend, Jackie.
So Robert is stranded and Jackie is shocked, She’s disheartened by what she understands to be Robert’s betrayal.
The levity of this silly story arrives in the form of the cook, Suzi. She is hardly the alluring model type that Bernie has described.
But when Bernie asks Robert to wait at the house for his side chick to arrive, he never described what she looked like. Nor does he note that another woman is coming, that is a chef from the catering agency.
It’s now a case of mistaken identity wherein the cook arrives first, only to be mistaken by Robert for the woman that Bernie currently adores.
Here is where the fun takes off since this Suzi quickly sees that she holds the winning cards in a set of games she didn’t come to play.
She came to cook, but since she’s basically being asked to cover for a cheating spouse, she sees there are no barred. And she is not shy about squeezing every penny that she can get out of both men.
Robert obediently claims this frumpy-looking mama as his girl, which Jackie finds devastating but also quite strange.
Her disillusionment doesn’t last long, however, since there are more complications to come once the real side chick arrives, only to be told that she now has to play the cook while the real cook is busy boozing and being Robert’s girlfriend.
Simultaneous to her arrival, Jackie discloses that she has found receipts for a very costly coat fitting the description of the one that the ‘cook’ has just walked in the door wearing.
Now she’s got more of a complete picture of what’s going on. But rather than shout and demand a divorce from her cheating spouse, she simply stands back and watches what comes next.
That is the arrival of the taxi driver who has come to collect his wife. By this time, Suzi the real cook has acquired a bundle of money from both Robert and Bernard. But now her departure is going to explode Bernie’s game.
But that apparently is not a problem anymore. Both Bernie and Jackie are cheaters, so neither one has grounds for accusation or blame.
So we are left with a sort of moral ambiguity as the story ends there, whether you like it or not.