Get a ticket and fly over to Rep Stage in Columbia, MD, for Boeing Boeing, a completely enjoyable bedroom farce. Boeing Boeing premiered in Paris in 1960 where it ran for 19 years and was first staged in English in 1962 in London’s West End, where it enjoyed a five-year run with Patrick Cargill as Bernard. It was made into a movie starring Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis, and the 2008 Broadway revival with a translation by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans earned Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Play and for Mark Rylance’s performance as Bernard.
Boeing Boeing is the story of an American architect with three fiancées whom he entertains while they are on layovers from their jobs as stewardesses.
Thanks to technology, things quickly get more complicated.
“I think they’re going to transfer me to a new aircraft . . . the Super-Boeing. And do you know, darling, each jet has a thrust of nineteen thousand pounds,” says one of the stewardesses.
The comedy by Marc Camoletti with translations by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans is directed by Karl Kippola for Rep Stage, a Helen Hayes Award-winning professional theatre company housed at Howard Community College.
Kippola creates a minuet with Bernard and the brightly clad stewardesses arriving and departing from his apartment, a dance made funnier by the maid, Berthe, who is complicit, but only to a point. She switches out photos, changes the flowers in the vase and cooks the ladies’ favorite foods, but with a world-weary attitude that raises the possibility of her own departure.
Luckily, Robert, an old school chum, shows up, and soon becomes the marionette master in a whirl of matchmaking and romance – interrupted only by inquisitions about stray pieces of mail and rival air duffels accidentally left in the apartment.
Bernard has a compulsive personality and schedules his fiancées precisely depending on published flight tables. He likes it that they all have the same first initial so he does not have to change the framed picture of their intertwined initials, ‘B’ for Bernard and ‘G’ for Gretchen, Gloria, or Gabrielle.
Robert drops in to see his buddy just when his perfectly arranged plans are about to fall apart. Though he is unschooled in the playboy lifestyle, he soon gets caught up in trying to maintain the deception, though not without a little prodding from Bernard.
“Polygamy . . . It’s the ideal life—pleasant, soothing, and it never gets boring. You ought to try it.”
“Polygamy? You mean lots of wives?”
“Not wives, old man, fiancées. You have all the advantages of married life without any of the inconveniences. Fiancées are much more friendly than wives.”
Bernard is played by James Whalen, the only person I have ever seen who can kiss in three different languages. He is really funny when he goes from being completely entranced by his current lip-locked amour – to being startled that another is about to arrive, or as chance may have it, is already there.
Paul Edward Hope’s Robert is a complete goober, a yokel from Wisconsin who has plunked down in France to visit family. He uses a lot of hilarious body humor to complement his lines, which rise to frantic crescendos when one stewardess is about to enter a room that another is occupying.
Gretchen, a dominant, forceful German woman, is performed by Allison Leigh Corke, who does not lapse into stereotype. There is an emotional rawness to her characterization as she falls truly in love one of the men. It is tempered, however, by sudden outbursts in which she uses a stronger German accent, at one point warning him away with a gusty “You don’t know anythink!”
Molly Cahill Govern’s Gloria is a glamorous, brash, effervescent and free-spirited American stewardess. She gets a hearty laugh from the audience when she says “I love the way you always write it down,” after Bernard asks for the specifics of her next arrival.
Gabrielle, the Italian stewardess is portrayed by Kelsea Edgerly as an alluring, romantic type who presses for marriage. Edgerly brings a lot of chemistry to her relationship with Bernard and her depiction of a mid-century single, Italian woman seemed very authentic.
Nanna Ingvarsson plays the maid, Berthe, with a hand-on-hip slouch, a disdainful curl of the lip, the disgusted shrug of a shoulder and the dismissive gesture of a hand. The audience liked it when she muttered whole phrases in French, like “My God, these people!” Every time she came out from the kitchen, I found myself gleefully anticipating her humor.
Marc Camoletti wrote the play when he was in his 50s. His message may have been that, while the life of a playboy might seem alluring, a more traditional lifestyle is preferable. Even though they brought a lot of individualism—nationality, sophistication, age–to their separate roles, the actors worked together really well to communicate the message.
The theme was also reflected nicely in Daniel Ettinger’s set, which is pure eye-candy, as befits Bernard’s architect persona. It features sixteen-foot ceilings and seven recessed doors with delightful glimpses of the rooms beyond, lit beautifully by Jason Arnold. There was a mix of modern furniture with more traditional French accouterments. For example, a puffy beanbag chair sits next to a Queen Antoinette side table. The sharp-edged, bright flight uniforms contrasted with frothy nighties in more muted colors. The selection of props by Properties Designer Natalia Chavez Leimkuhler fit the action and the characters well. The sound design by Matt Straka featured an offstage vacuum cleaner for Berthe and the roar of jet engines at beginning and end.
Jennifer Tardiff Beall’s costumes included yellow, blue, and red airline uniforms with pillbox hats. Although yellow is its only complimentary color, the purple of the wool blazer worn by Bernard somehow went with the blue and red uniforms, too. In the opening scene, the implications were clear when he wore the red silk pajama pants and Gloria wore the top. His tank tops and smoking jacket suited his luxurious homebody character and were true to the era. Robert and Berthe’s clothing was more muted than that of the other characters although their roles were more flamboyant. Robert wore trousers and preppy plaid shirts, sporty zippered jacket, banded hat and dirty bucks. Berthe wore a maid’s uniform until the end, when she donned a dress that swirled with Picasso colors taken from the fantastic blues the set. When she threatens to leave, she dons a Scottish beanie-cap with a yellow pom pom and matching shoulder bag, a clashing sartorial wink that the show is drawing to an end.
Finally, when Bernard and Robert sit down together to reflect, Lighting Designer Jason Arnold dims the lights and a slanted shadow traces the outline of two arched windows across the scene as if the moon was shining into the apartment. Then, during the charming bowing sequence, which includes song and dance, the lights break into a celebratory swirl of hearts for an enchanting finale that presages not only the planned marriages, but perhaps signals a farewell to Producing Artistic Director Michael Stebbins, who has been with the company since 2005. The play also closes the 20th-anniversary season for Rep Stage.
Running Time: Two and a half hours with a 15-minute intermission.
Boeing Boeing plays though May 5, 2013 in Rep Stage’s The Smith Theatre at Howard Community College – 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office (443) 518-1500, or purchase them online.