Tuesday, May 15, 2018
By Carol Van Zoeren
A classic farce, Boeing Boeing premiered in Paris in 1960, with the English adaptation first staged in London in 1962. It has the distinction of being the most produced French play, although I had never read nor seen it. And what fun it is not to know what’s coming next!
The plot centers on Bernard (Ian Agnew), an American living in Paris and masterfully juggling relationships with three flight attendants by meticulously adhering to the flight schedules of the three airlines for whom the women work. Masterfully, that is, until faster planes upend the schedule. His old friend Robert (Eric Rupp) has arrived from Wisconsin and, along with Bernard’s dour housekeeper Bertha (Victoria Healy), bear the brunt of trying to keep a lid on the hilarity which ensues.
Bernard starts out cocky and becomes increasingly unhinged, and Agnew navigates this trajectory quite well. In less skilled hands, the character might reach the peak of unhingedness too early and have nowhere to go, but Agnew metes it out with admirable restraint. Robert’s trajectory is almost a mirror image, starting out unsure and gaining confidence, and with a constant cycle of craziness/relief/repeat. Rupp succeeds and does some of the best wordless acting I’ve seen with his expressive face. Healy, a Candlelight favorite, draws laughs from her first entrance. She has some of the biggest laugh lines of the show with perfect deadpan delivery.
Each of the flight attendants is clearly delineated through costumes, accents and mannerisms, and all three are delightfully over the top in stereotypical characterizations. The American, Gloria (Marybeth Williamson), is a free spirit with some randy behavior that must have been rather shocking in the 60s. The Italian, Gabriella (Heather Ferrell), is hot tempered and moody, and I especially liked Ferrell’s oh-so-Italian mannerisms. And the German, Gretchen (Sophie Jones), flips between coquettish to domineering and back in nanoseconds.
But beyond individual performances, what really makes farce work is how well the ensemble works together. And this is particularly impressive in this production. The pacing, the split second timing between who’s going into and coming out of which door (and there are seven of them in this one). And especially, this ensemble risks life and limb for the many highlights of physical comedy. Kudos to director Bob Kelly, to have his cast this polished on opening night!
The set has an appropriately muted palette of grey, black and white. This allows colorful elements of set dressing to really stand out and add to the fun. Most especially, a very important portrait — I won’t say more, you’ll know what I mean when you see it.
In sum, I thoroughly enjoyed Boeing Boeing. If you want a great night out with a lot of laughs, I highly recommend it!