Boeing, Boeing by Marc Camoletti. Directed by Cathy Lee-Visscher. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Christina Reeve, Mark Wilson, Mark Carway, Olga Bogdanova; photo: Dan Region
The life of a maid might just get better around here!"
Sally McCarthy as Berthe; photo: Dan Region
Boeing, Boeing is one of those plays. When I first saw it I thought it was mildly amusing. It made a mildly amusing film starring Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis. Then it just disappeared. When it finally re-emerged on Broadway a few years ago it seemed to be a comic riot. I have, since then, seen four productions of this play and each time it seems better if not funnier than the time before. I am not sure if I am aging and just finding things funnier, or if I am aging and seeing things better than I did before, or if things like this are just actually funnier. No matter which. This production is funny and whether that is due to the comedy talents of this cast or to the comic understanding of its director, Cathy Lee-Visscher, who seems to understand that comedy IS and doesn't have to be MADE funny the result is a very funny production on stage at the Ghent Playhouse in Ghent, New York.
At the center of this piece is the character of Berthe, the French Maid. She is not the kind of French maid who wears eight little crinolines under her short skirt and primps her way through the room; no. SPOILER ALERT ONE: She is a mature woman who smokes, drinks, says what she thinks and feels and wears a string bow-tie because it looks right. She is played in this edition by Sally McCarthy and she becomes the lead character in a show in which she has no romantic relationships with anyone unlike everyone else in the company.
McCarthy is no nonsense here. Her Berthe is reasonably stable for a crazy lady. She trades off photographs when necessary, prepares foods she detests and lives her life in servitude as only a French Woman could. SPOILER ALERT TWO: She works for Bernard who has three "fiancees", airline hostesses who work for TWA, Lufthansa and Al Italia: Gloria, Gretchen and Gabriella. He lives with all of them - one at a time - based on their flight schedules and Berthe facilitates all of this with quiet acumen and feral fortitude. Throughout the play it is McCarthy's character who maintains things in the constant farcical light of impending disaster. Her work here is brilliant. Like me you will want to wrap her up in your arms and take her home afterward. She is that good in this role.
Almost as delectable is Mark Wilson as Bernard's visiting friend, Robert, fresh out of Wisconsin. His visit happens to coincide with the day when Bernard's delicious little menage swings out of control and he is caught in the middle of a game of deception that gets nuttier and nuttier as it progresses. This wisp of a man, never been kissed, probably never been hugged, finds himself juggling women, rooms, excuses, and more than mere busses on the cheek. Often this role is played for broad, slapstick laughs but Wilson, as directed by Lee-Visscher, plays all of this more for the intellect than for the physical and the result is perfect comedy. Often Robert and Berthe seem to be the only ones playing with a full deck although it isn't hard to believe that their jokers are definitely wild.
Mark Carway plays Bernard, at first too stilted and stiff and later, to my surprise, with a wonderful off-putting wackiness that shows us the deeper, more honest and affected man who has dug his own grave and jumped down into it. This is an ultimately satsifying realization.
The three women playing his three loves are as different as any three women could possibly be. Olga Bogdanova is the very Italian and tempestuous Gabriella, a small, dark-haired spitfire who would make Gina Lollobrigida blush with humble embarrassment. It was occasionally hard to understand her as her accent is thick and her dialogue is seemingly shot from a gattling gun. But it was never difficult to know what she was saying for her body language has dynamics that no engineer has yet named.
Meaghan Rogers plays Gloria, the American who has an agenda. Her aim is millionaire magic and she does her best to find the right human goal to aim for as she plys the skies. Rogers is fun in the role and her almost Southern sound (Gloria is a New Yorker, but probably from the lower edge of the Rockaways) is both silly and seductive.
Christina Reeves' Gretchen is a woman to be wondered at, a living, breathing female impersonator played by a woman. She is tall, majestic, deep-voiced, angular and dynamic in ways that are impossible to explain. She moves at right angles. She is domineering and domain-challenged as she works her wiles on Robert without rights to claim him. Reeves is very funny, and just a bit frightening - this was a role that Christine Baranski played in that Broadway revival and re-made in her own image. Begone Baranski! Reeves is on the stage now.
On an almost all white set designed by the director and Sam Reilly, in perfect costumes designed by Joanne Maurer - costumes that completely define their wearers - Cathy Lee-Visscher has honed the comedy in this play with a fine blade. Lines I know I never laughed at before struck me as funny because they were genuine. Situations that I look at as ultimately predictable came at me from new directions and took me almost by surprise.
What Lee-Visscher has managed to do is to take something old and familiar and redefine it into something new and familiar at the same time, allowing me to enjoy once again what I enjoyed once before, but not quite as much since. Other productions have been fun, but this is different. This one is a first-time experience.
Boeing, Boeing plays through April 3 at the Ghent Playhouse, 6 Town Hall Place, Ghent, NY. For information and tickets call 1-800-838-3006 or go on line to ghentplayhouse.org.