'Dinner' has its fill of laughter

Jeanne Chinn was ready to laugh when she signed on to be the director of Lawrence Community Theatre's production of "Don't Dress for Dinner."

Not only were the Sept. 11 attacks still in her consciousness, but the Topeka resident also had recently finished acting stints in "The Laramie Project" at Washburn University and "The Cemetery Club" at Topeka Civic Theatre.

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Thad Allender/Journal World Photo

Jon Hobble, who plays Bernard in "Don't Dress for Dinner," threatens Marion Constantinescu, who plays Robert, with tongs. The play opens Friday at the Lawrence Community Theatre.

"The Laramie Project" is about the aftermath of the savage killing of Matthew Shepard, a gay university student. "The Cemetery Club" is about three widows who keep a monthly cemetery vigil and a widower who disrupts their mourning.

"In a time when things have been emotional and difficult, it is good to sit back and just laugh," she said. "It's a great emotional release to be able to laugh � laughter is the great healer."

"Don't Dress for Dinner," she said, was just the right medicine for her. Even now, after weeks of rehearsal, she finds herself laughing aloud during rehearsals.

The play promises all the standards of British farce, such as physical comedy and mistaken identities. And the storyline is nearly absurd: Bernard (Jon Hobble) is planning a rendezvous with his mistress, Suzanne (Sally Bremenkamp), while his wife Jacqueline (Peggy Sampson) is out of town visiting her mother.

He has hired a cook (Tina Connolly) to provide gourmet delights, and his friend, Robert (Marion Constantinescu), has agreed to be his alibi.

A wrench is thrown into his scheme when Jacqueline decides to stay home, and George (Mario Bonilla), the cook's husband, shows up.

"Trying to get out of the lie gets funnier and funnier," said Chinn, who has a master's degree in fine arts from Lindenwood College near St. Louis.

While she likes acting, Chinn is glad to be directing "Don't Dress for Dinner." She thinks her expertise on the stage is helpful when she's standing in front of it and making suggestions to the cast.

"There's something about being an actor and then directing," she said. "There's an empathy (with the cast) and an understanding."

"Don't Dress for Dinner" was written for the French stage by Marc Camoletti, who is best known to American audiences for his script of "Boeing, Boeing." After "Don't Dress for Dinner" had huge success in Paris, Robin Hawdon adapted the play for the London stage, where it has been playing for decades.

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