Boeing-Boeing by Marc Camoletti, translated by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans. Directed by Jenn Thompson.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"I was just about to take off."
(Not a production shot); photo: provided
I should make this into a love letter to Jenn Thompson, director of the current production of the play "Boeing-Boeing" by Marc Camoletti now playing at the Dorset Theatre Festival in Dorset, Vermont. I should write: "Dear Ms. Thompson, I love you. I love what you do with these insane farce-comedies you direct. I love the way you elicit laughter from this careful and dour sensibility and how you bring tears to my eyes with the sentimentality that always lurks within the confines of these inane plays. I love the experience of watching your way with the stage space that simulates reality and with the people who temporarily inhabit this space; they seem so real as I watch them, so comfortable with their environments. Dear Ms. Thompson, how do you do what you do, especially with the limited time available to you? How do you develop such rich and informed characters without months of work with your actors? I love the results, no matter how you get there."
But this is not how a responsible reviewer addresses the work at hand. So never mind. Let me deal with the facts, plain and simple. "Boeing-Boeing" is a play about a roue who keeps three airline stewardesses on strings, dangling them from the master bedroom in his Paris apartment. Each one believes she "lives" in the space with him, and not one of them knows about the others. Then one day an old school-friend shows up to bunk in with the roue and like magic, as if his unanticipated presence was enough to shock the cosmos, all three stews wind up back at the apartment on the same night.
Alec Beard plays Bernard, the cad with the apartment on the back street of Montparnasse. His apartment is grand and, as if designed by a theater-crazed architect, has seven doors into the living room, a perfect, odd number, right for a farce. He is tall, slender, handsome, just right for a 1960s womanizer. He dresses well and has a modestly appointed grand apartment. Bernard’s personal charm and his smile are enough to melt hearts all way out to Row G at least and Beard has this in spades. He is also a most believable performer as his work here proves. The surprise is how adept a comic he becomes in the second act. Whether timing the line or taking a prat fall, Beard is delightful and he gets his laughs. (Did he need much help, Jenn, or did he bring all this with him? I have my suspicions.)
David Christopher Wells plays Robert, the friend, with a simplicity that spouts mid-western flip-flap. What he brings to the role is the opposite of deviousness, the principal trait the incidentally-seductive man avoids. Wells plays Robert as somewhat simple and all that word means on every level. He begins with an awkwardness that is inspiring and ends with everything a young man in Paris could hope to find and a sense of purpose that is beautifully played. Wells is a subtle actor and his changes are sometimes too slow and deliberate. In this play he seems to be perfectly cast.
Bernard’s housekeeper and cook, Berthe, is bound tightly to her portrayer now and forever as Amelia White presents her. A perfect Thelma Ritter role (she played her in the 1965 film version) Berthe is wise and unsympathetic and just waiting for the day when Bernard’s playing with women overwhelms him. White, with a giggly French accent, addresses each and every person in the play with the same haughty air that takes on its own form and format when in dialogue with a different character on stage. White is granted an honored spot in the curtain calls and you must wait for the calls. (Another Thompson specialty, it seems, the bows in this show capitalize on character and on the actors’ own part in the creation of those fictional folk. You did a fine job with them, Jenn.)
The three woman are superb, playing each character for her stereotypical parts and creating unbelievably rich whole cloth out of what is least worthy in each one of them creating the best possible version. Three actresses seem to melt into the on-stage characters.
For example, Finnerty Steves plays the American woman, Gloria and she plays it like Maggie Wheeler played the very New Yawk Janice on the tv show, "Friends." As Janice pursued Chandler, Gloria goes after first Bernard, and then Robert and finally an anonymous millionaire in Mexico. She is strong, and awkward, ugly when the most beautiful and certainly visibly vicious where she should be sweet. It is a howling good performance.
Liv Rooth plays the German girl Gretchen as though she was actually Romy Schneider and she even looks like Schneider. Watching Rooth’s Gretchen fall in love with Wells’ Robert would be a play in and of itself. At this juncture she is absolutely marvelous managing to manipulate the man she loves into loving her back.
Kate Middleton who played the very dumb-Blond British actress Brooke last year in "Noises Off" returns as the very savvy Italian stewardess Gabriella. She is sheer Gina Lollobrigida, down to the spit curls in her dark hair, the over-the-top eyelashes, eye liner and mascara, and the low-cut decolletage. She has fire in this role. She has power, also. She is as funny as she is determined, as relentless as she is pliable.
This trio knows what to do and Thompson has clearly worked their developmental buns to the bone (this is a no-cellulite cast, male and female alike). On the fine Kevin Judge set, in Emily Pepper’s fine period 1960s clothes, under Michael Gianett’s pitch-perfect lighting, this cast makes a very silk purse out of this goat’s hide of a play. They do it, Jenn Thompson, through your vision and your powers of communication, it seems to me.
This is the best Boeing-Boeing yet. Move over Tony Curtis, Jerry Lewis and anyone else who has taken on this play. For a while in Dorset Vermont the best possible production is available for viewing.
Boeing-Boeing plays at the Dorset Theatre Festival, located at 104 Cheney Road, Dorset, Vermont through July 28. For information and tickets call the box office at 802-867-2223.