At the Stanley until Feb. 24
The house lights had no sooner gone down than a fellow behind me chortled, “Al-right, let’s laugh.” And once the curtain went up on Boeing-Boeing, he — and many others —laughed uproariously for a couple of hours.
But Boeing-Boeing, written by Marc Camoletti (Geneva-born French citizen) back in 1960, is about as silly a piece of fluff as there is. Heavy on bedroom doors opening and closing, it’s no wonder it ran for an astonishing 19 years in Paris where farce is so culturally embedded. Translated into English, it even kept English audiences laughing for seven years. The program notes tell us that Boeing-Boeing is “the most performed French play in the world.” That’s a testament more to audiences’ appetite for diversion than to the merits of the play.
What compensates for the complete silliness of Boeing-Boeing is a combination of a sleek and handsome production, and a cast of some of Vancouver’s best comedic actors. If anyone could get this show airborne it would be Jonathon Young, Andrew McNee, Colleen Wheeler, Moya O’Connell, Kimberley Sustad and Nicola Lipman. Directed by David Mackay, this sextet goes crazy with a script that’s all about sex.
Amir Ofek’s set is wide, wide, wide to accommodate two bedrooms stage right, another stage left and a living area in between. The play is set in an upscale Paris flat: white sofa, white carpet, white walls and metallic silver cushions. It’s an appropriate pad for swinging bachelor Bernard (Young), an architect — although we never see anything of that side of his life.
In fact, it’s impossible to imagine Bernard finding time for architecting at all when he seems to spend all his time and energy juggling three airline hostesses in and out of those three bedrooms and one bathroom. Young is so gosh darn cute and bushy-tailed that you are pretty quickly charmed by him. Bernard keeps a book with all the airline schedules and he has a friend in the industry that alerts him to new, gorgeous “prospects.” The women must fly for different airlines and on different schedules so they never meet each other or arrive at Bernard’s apartment at the same time. The obvious happens just after his awkward old school chum Robert (McNee) arrives in Paris from smalltown Wisconsin and is gobsmacked at — and more than a little envious of — Bernard’s romantic scam.
McNee, his hair brushed nerdishly to the side, is one of the best physical comedy guys around. He can kill you with the way he leans on a door or sits on a cushion. Just breathing, he’s hilarious. And Lipman, as Bernard’s long-suffering maid Berthe, steals more than a few scenes with her weary sarcasm and crankiness. In her little black maid’s uniform, Berthe is totally aware of all the sexy goings-on and grumbles her way around the apartment insulting everyone who arrives. Talk about small roles going huge with wickedly underplayed subtlety. That’s Lipman.
And then there are those three flight attendants each nattily dressed by costume designer Nancy Bryant in the uniform of the respective airlines. Lufthansa turquoise for German Gretchen (Wheeler); TWA pink for American Gloria (Sustad); and Alitalia minty green for Italian Gabriella (O’Connell). They are, of course, all beautiful and sexy — although Wheeler’s Gretchen is more ferocious lioness than purring sex kitten.
Director Mackay just lets ‘er rip. Act 1 moves faster than Act 2 by which time you know well in advance how it’s going to go down.
I think the guy behind me who wanted a good laugh got many more than one. I was laughed out pretty quickly and, except for the pleasure of seeing this fabulous cast exercising their comedic chops all at the same time on the same stage, I was ready to go back to the real world where delayed, cancelled and re-scheduled flights happen all the time.