By Arnold Wayne Jones

Over the centuries, the French can lay claim to perfecting the sex farce — if there is such a thing. The problem with most comedies is that they become easily dated, and when you toss sexual mores into the mix … well, even the raciest 1960s-era plots simply reek of creeky bourgeois morality a generation or two later.

So the success of a play like "Don’t Dress for Dinner," onstage at Theatre Three, depends deeply on two elements: your attitude going in and how well the production mines the contemporary comedic ore out of the musty gags. (Maybe this stuff just plays better in French.)

But Theatre Three’s version, directed by ex-pat Dallasite John McLean, squeezes every bit of juice out of this Marc Camoletti turnip about a married couple (Jody Rudman, Daylon Walton) each carrying on affairs under the other’s nose. Mistaken identities, fortuitous entrances, slips of the tongue: These are the cliches of the sex farce, made more than palatable by this cast.

The standout is Kimberly Condict, playing a wily, sqeaky-voiced caterer who’s game for any deception. Condict holds herself as loose as a bobblehead doll, getting laughs where few actors could. She and Ashley Wood get the most opportunities to exploit the physical comedy, but the whole cast bravely negotiates the often stilted dialogue with tons of flair, turning the comic insanity into a fluffy bit of fun.

The insanity in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas is of the more clinical kind. Based on Ken Kesey’s counterculture novel, its setting (a state mental ward) was a metaphor for America during the Vietnam Era — maybe the inmates should run the asylum if this is the mess the establishment gets us in.

The lovably rascally hero, Randle P. McMurphy (Mark Nutter), upends the order established by prickly head nurse Ratched (Sue Loncar) by galvanizing the patients.

The play doesn’t pack the punch of the book (or the equally famous movie); onstage, the rebellion lacks grandeur. And the pas de deux of power between Ratched and McMurphy lacks teeth — they don’t spar so much as quibble.

Nutter’s broad physicality borders on overplaying, but ultimately works well. But it’s the supporting cast — especially Randy Pearlman as fey closet-case Harding, Nye Cooper as twitching neurotic Cheswick and Andrew Cope as the heartbreaking, stuttering mother-obsessed Billy — who really "get" it: Tragedy and comedy in one.

Just like life.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 13, 2009.

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