Julianne Christie, director of the White Rock Players Club’s forthcoming production – the French farce Don’t Dress For Dinner (Coast Capital Playhouse, Feb. 9-24) – knows how to make ’em laugh.
The Canadian-born actress, producer and instructor at White Rock-based The Drama Class has an impressive list of film and TV credits from some 20 years of work in Los Angeles (including roles in The Nutty Professor and Encino Man and TV shows Grimm, Smallville, Dead Like Me, Star Trek Enterprise, Star Trek Voyager and Public Morals).
“I was schooled in comedy,” she said. “Mostly sitcom work – I’ve done many leads in sitcoms.”
That experience has more than prepared her for helming Don’t Dress – which she describes as a “great big farce – a sitcom in a play.”
After some years in the Seattle area, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts-educated Christie – who was born on the North Shore, but moved with her family to the US when she was only six months old – recently resettled in White Rock with her 15-year-old daughter Zoe and new husband Poppi (they married in November).
But while she’s been building up business in Hollywood North over the last year – including directing, private coaching and teaching master classes – there was one thing missing, until now.
“I told people I really wanted to direct at the Playhouse,” she said. “I believe in manifesting – and it’s all come together.”
That, she said, includes the opportunity of working with both a strong comedy script and “an incredible cast… such a committed, creative group of people.”
Marc Camoletti’s 1987 play, a followup to his 1960 mega-hit Boeing-Boeing (produced two years ago by the Players Club), brings back the characters of architect/ladies man Bernard (Dann Wilhelm); his old friend, nervous, conservative accountant Robert (Tomas Gamba) and former airline stewardess Jacqueline (Lori Tych).
Bernard and Jacqueline are now married, and living in a renovated farmhouse two hours from Paris, but it seems the arch-swinger has not reformed his ways.
Expecting Jacqueline to visit her mother for the weekend, Bernard prepares an elaborate romantic tryst at his home with his mistress Suzanne (Rebecca Sutherland), a Parisian lingerie model; hiring a Cordon Bleu cook, Suzette (Jenn Lane), and also inviting Robert to the house as a cover.
True to farce form, nothing goes as planned. Jacqueline, catching wind of Bernard’s preparations, calls off her visit with maman, triggering a feverish series of lies and misunderstandings. Along the way the identities of Suzanne and Suzette are switched, as Bernard and Robert become ever more desperate in their attempts to avoid catastrophe, which ultimately takes the looming form of Suzanne’s jealous husband George (Greg Tunner).
For all its pedigree – including a six-year run in London in the ’90s – the show has not always been sure-fire, but Christie said that’s all in the approach.
“Some people have played it dead-pan and it was panned,” she said, adding that she has been working to achieve the potential of the play for over-the-top reactions, door slamming, acrobatic set pieces and the “rhythm of the farce language.”
“People can be careful – some of our actors are real thinkers – but after a certain point you have to stop thinking and go out and play. It’s important to get off book – that’s when you can start all the abuse and the falling over, the drinking, pushing and crashing.”
She has chosen to set the play in the 1980s (“the wardrobe is Dynasty,” Christie said) and make both Bernard and Robert expatriate Britons.
Audiences can also expect to take the ‘Don’t Dress’ part of the title literally – this is going to be a show on the “saucy and sexy” side of the farce spectrum, Christie promised.
“We have characters in various stages of undress throughout,” she said.
“By the end of Act 2 everyone but George is in lingerie. We have some sexy moments in the show – after seeing last year’s The Graduate, I was saying ‘wow, good for you White Rock.’ I want to do something else to push the envelope a little bit.”
But Christie stresses that – in her version of Don’t Dress, at least – all the female characters are played as “strong women who have status.”
“It could be played where they are completely objectified but we’ve turned that around,” she said, adding that Jacqueline – who has decided to beat Bernard at his own game – is no dupe, while Suzette proves a canny negotiator in assisting the men’s subterfuges and Suzanne, while ostensibly fearful of George, is clearly the boss of her domestic situation.
“She gets what she wants when she wants it,” Christie said.
Don’t Dress For Dinner plays Wednesdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m., with 2:30 p.m. matinees on Feb. 10 and 17.
The venue is at 1532 Johnston Rd.
Tickets ($22, $19 students and seniors, $10 for Feb. 7-8 previews) are available at www.whiterockplayers.ca or at the box office (604-536-7535) open Wednesday to Saturday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.