Sunday, August 4, 2019

Boeing Boeing (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

I can remember as a teen hearing about this comedy, which was done at my local community theatre in Pensacola Florida.  That was in the 1970s.  Marc Camoletti's farce continues to find producers, which certainly indicates there's something there.  And there is.

Boeing Boeing takes place at the dawn of a new world, when international airflights were becoming commonplace, and in the wake of WWII the world was trying to relax, have a good time.  The Cold War or any number of serious historical events go unmentioned.  Instead, we are greeted with a farce.  One of the first things one notices about the set are six different doors in the same apartment.  Sure enough, all those doors will be opened and shut in a dizzying array of combinations before long. 

Bernard (Oscar Fleming) is an architect who lives in Paris.  As the play begins his American fiancee, American air hostess Gloria (Emilie Owen) eats breakfast with him before leaving on the next leg of her job.  As a rule, she can only spend three days a week here.  Berthe (Katrine Fenger), Bernard's maid, doesn't much like her--in part because she eats pancakes with ketchup.

Okay, she has a point.  Yeeeeecccchhh.

Soon, another American shows up--Bernard's college friend Robert (Matt Torczon), paying a surprise visit and honored to meet his pal's fiancee.  Before long, we and he learn the truth--namely that Bernard has three air hostess fiancees who each stay with him two days a week.  No, they don't know about each other and he focuses a lot of his energy on keeping it that way.

Naturally, this is all going to fall apart on stage.  Planes get turned back due to bad weather.  A shift in schedules or two, with first the German Gretchen (Theresa Philomena) then Italian Gabriella (Celine Rosalie Zoppe) ending up at the apartment at the same time!  Cue massive and increasingly frantic efforts by Robert and Bernard to somehow keep all these plates spinning in the air as the we the audience realize Gloria is bound to show up soon as well.

Now the thing about comedy--you laugh or you don't.  If you don't laugh, or at least smile a lot and sometimes chuckle, it does not work.  A good script is only part of the recipe, because without a director with a good eye for comedy it will fall flat.  Ditto for the cast sans the special sense of timing and slightly heightened attitude needed.  Director Betty Karlen clearly did two thirds of her job in selecting a charming, funny cast who gave us a very nice couple of hours of entertainment.

More, the comedy continues to prove its legs because it turns out to be more than just a collection of jokes.  Boeing Boeing is at heart about growing up, about the kind of frenzied energy the young can somehow sustain, versus the trouble that mounts as we seek to avoid responsibility.  Bernard tries to maintain a perfect balance, giving himself the maximum amount of fun with the least responsibility.  Well, that little plan falls apart eventually, as any adult would realize it must do.

Mind you, he gets off more than easy.  He dodged a bullet that might have left his personal life (of which he seems to have almost none) in ruins.  Robert on the other hand learns faster--offered an opportunity to have this kind of "fun" himself, he feels temptation but ultimately prefers love.

The result is a charming dance of zany mistakes and almost-disasters, sprinkled with a little bit of seemingly hard won (albeit actually fairly inexpensive) wisdom.

Boeing Boeing! plays until Sunday Aug. 4 at 7pm at the Dorie Theatre in the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038.

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