“Boeing Boeing” (a familiar name to Washington residents) lands at Tacoma Little Theatre to open its 97th season.
This play is so typical of the 1960’s, when men are all macho and women are all so easily deceived. Make way for special agent, gun-carrying Matt Helm and all the bevy of beauties who flocked to him.
Not quite so fast. This one is different. This one is French farce which would do Molière’s Comédie-Française proud.
“Boeing Boeing,” written by Marc Camoletti and translated by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans, is a hilarious romp through those years of gullible women, with all the thrills and laughs of a Shakespearian comedy and a Danny Kaye movie – with a sprinkling of The Three Stooges thrown in.
The story is complexly simple: Bernard, an ordinary bachelor, living in Paris, is engaged to three airline stewardesses – American Gloria, Italian Gabriella, and German Gretchen – of course, none of the three know the others exist. Sharing his flat is Berthe, Bernard’s housekeeper – “She was here when I moved in, so I just kept her” – who has the duty of helping Bernard keep his women separate including becoming an aficionado in multiple cuisines.
Bernard keeps things straight with all the precision of an air-traffic controller by using a flight-time diary so he is assured of flying solo with each of his fiancées while the other two are on time- consuming flights.
Two things happen to complicate his life: One, the arrival of Robert, an old school chum and two, the jet engine. Chaos is born, including earlier plane arrivals, missed phone messages, slamming doors and fantastic gymnastic events – like stewardess-lifting and beanbag chair hurdles. With all this zaniness, the laughs build throughout the play until it’s sometimes hard to hear the lines – which really don’t matter because with the situations and the looks on the actors’ faces, who needs lines?
Director Curt Hetherington not only chose his cast of six for their comic acting ability, he had to keep in mind the physical antics he wanted to employ – his cast has not let him down.
Blake R. York has designed a typical 1960’s flat with enough doors to satisfy even the antics of Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. Jeffery Weaver dresses it with nouveau ‘60’s modern; Niclas R. Olson does lights; Jay Biederman handles sound; and Michele Graves does costumes; Tanya Zambrowsky is stage manager.
Hetherington took a real chance on his actors’ abilities to give him what he wanted of their characters. It’s one thing to ask for a 20-something young man to do flips, tumbles and high jumps; it’s quite another to expect it from men approaching twice that age. But he got what he wanted.
Hetherington’s direction is more like chorography than actual blocking. The timing demand is monstrous, the line-delivery spot on and the facial and body reactions superb. Sometimes, the French, Italian and German accents get lost in the melee, but that doesn’t seem to matter – the attitude and demeanor are there and they are understood in any language.
The three lovely loves are equal in their individual performances.
Ana Bury plays Gloria, the American Airlines stewardess. She is a kissing fool, who has her own ulterior motive which isn’t discovered until almost final curtain. Bury is the most agile of the three and is utterly charming in the role.
Jana Gueck is Gretchen the Lufthansa stewardess who is unswerving in her love for Bernard – or is she? Gueck affections are easily read by the audience as the actor projects their change with her body language as her feelings shift.
Holly Rose is Gabriella the Italian fiancée. Rose plays the hot-blooded Mediterranean as a woman who trusts her fiancé about as far as she could throw the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but loves conquers all.
Greg Lucas is Bernard, the love of the trio’s lives and he loves each of them equally. Lucas is totally believable in the role of the lying, cheating, no-good, lovable bachelor who just happens to earnestly love three women at the same time. Once he starts to see his happy facade crumble, the actor reveals his character following suit by exuding confusion and loss of his faith in his beloved time-table. This is a comical man who has good line delivery and stage presence.
Brynne Garman shows her penchant for comedy as Berthe, the harried, “motherly” housekeeper. Her timing is great, her facial reactions are perfect and her line delivery is just right. Garman turns in an excellent character.
Robert Alan Barnett is our hero’s old school friend who comes to Paris to visit and try to find a wife. Barnett is absolutely perfect for this role – the man was born to slap-stick – his timing is perfect, his line delivery is perfect, his facial expressions are perfect, he is more agile than a bend-a-bitty and does all with the seemingly ease of the true professional the actor is.
Extra kudos to Hetherington for his casting expertise.
“Boeing Boeing” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through October 4 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays.
“Boeing Boeing,” the most performed French play throughout the world, is pure escapism – it’s a hilarious, physical comedy with spot-on directing and acting. Going into a 13-month period of presidential election rhetoric, this is just the kind of entertainment we all need.