Boeing Boeing is a real trip back to the swinging 60s, when men dressed in jackets and ties around the house, flight attendants (only women) were called stewardesses, and were hired more for their looks and sex appeal than their intelligence, and Paris was a glamourous, romantic, exotic location for most Americans. Originally written by French playwright Marc Camoletti and staged in 1962, Boeing Boeing was soon translated into English by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans, and debuted on Broadway in 1965. It didn’t last very long, but in 2007, it was revived and this time, Broadway audiences loved it; it won Best Revival at the Tony Awards. According to Wikipedia, the play is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as “The most performed French play throughout the world.”
The Colonial Players of Annapolis’ production of this French farce, directed by Scott Nichols, makes it clear why Boeing Boeing is so popular. The story alone is guaranteed to get laughs. Bernard, an American living in Paris, played by Brandon Bentley, is engaged to three stewardesses (all working at different airlines) at the same time: Gloria (Debra Kidwell), Gabriella (Sarah Wade), and Gretchen (Rebecca Gift). Thanks to his knowledge of their schedules, he’s been able to keep them all separate and ignorant of each other. That is, until bad weather and a new, faster airplane conspire to bring all three women to Bernard’s apartment on the same night. It falls to Bernard, his maid Berthe (Cece McGee Newbrough), and his old friend Robert (Colin Hood), visiting from America, to keep the truth from coming out.
A comedy like this requires as much timing and precision as Bernard’s schedules, and thanks to Director Nichols, this hilarious production has it down to a science. One stewardess comes out of a door as soon as another goes in, with none of them the wiser.
The main action takes place in Bernard’s living room, simply but effectively designed by Alan Zemla, with a modern sofa, two chairs, and a coffee table, as well as a well-stocked bar concealed in a globe (the bar becomes increasingly useful once the craziness happens). It befits what one would expect a sophisticated American expatriate to live. On either side of the stage are doors leading to bathrooms and bedrooms, and these become extremely important for managing the entrances and exits. There is also excellent work from Lighting Designer Eric Lund and Sound Designer Ben Cornwell.
Despite the fact that all three look gorgeous in their uniforms, (designed by Christina McAlpine) the stewardesses are more than just pretty faces. Gloria, an American with TWA, has her own distinct views on who ought to run a household, and it’s later revealed, is playing her own game with Bernard. Gabriella, an Italian with Ailitalia, is passionate and fierce, not willing to settle. Gretchen, a German with Lufthansa, is strong (she almost breaks Robert’s hand when shaking it), and determined. Keeping these three women in the dark about each other is no easy feat. Interestingly enough, despite their deep love for Bernard, they find themselves surprisingly attracted to Robert, which adds to the hilarity.
The maid Berthe, though, is the strongest comic character. Even before the madness begins, she’s grumbling about “all the coming and going,” having to change the bedroom before each woman arrives, cook different food for them (sauerkraut for Gretchen), and make sure the right photo is hung in the living room, all on such a tight schedule. She absolutely shines trying to keep things together when the women all converge.
Cece McGee Newbrough’s Berthe is a sassy hoot, and her reaction when she realizes Gretchen is in at the same time as Gabriella delivered the biggest laugh of the night. Having earlier dismissed Robert, the two start to bond over the situation (of course, alcohol helps). She probably has the best line in the play, when, after learning Gloria will be coming over, she tells Robert, “Drink up, we’re in for a bumpy ride!”
Bernard’s transformation is the most fascinating to watch. Over the course of the play Brandon Bentley is so convincing as he turns from a charming, sophisticated man, making a convincing argument for carrying on with three women, into a nervous wreck, comically whimpering and tongue-tied, desperately grasping to keep things together. His physical comedy is remarkable, particularly his facial expressions, whether sending secret glances to keep Robert from spilling the beans to Gloria (who he first meets), or cowering in fear as he tries to figure out how to keep the women from encountering each other. Bernard is the best example of why it’s probably better to get involved with only one woman at a time.
Robert makes for an interesting character as well. An old school friend of Bernard’s, he’s in Paris to visit his uncle. From Wisconsin, he’s never encountered anything like Bernard’s arrangement, and it takes him some time to get used to it.
Colin Hood is hysterical as he gets flustered when meeting Gloria the first time, and almost reveals the secret. Before long, though, he’s helping to cover for Bernard; in fact, he’s the first to realize Gabriella and Gretchen are at the apartment at the same time, and he slyly tries to inform Bernard. Actually, he becomes quite the ladies’ man, flirting with all three of them, and getting kisses from two. Pretty nice for a guy just off the plane, and Hood delivers the laughs in spades.
The cast works tremendously well together, managing all the movements and interactions seamlessly and organically. With all the different exits and entrances, it looks like a choreographed dance, but it feels completely natural, which is a remarkable accomplishment.
The last few minutes of the play, when everything’s been resolved, drag on for a little bit, but otherwise Boeing Boeing is a well-paced, funny romp of a play.
All the acting, directing, and design comes together for a terrific production. Colonial Players‘ Boeing Boeing is so much fun to watch, producing non-stop laughs throughout the performance.
Running Time: Two and a half hours, with a 15-minute intermission.