Boeing-Boeing at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre in Frederick is a charming, entertaining, manic merry-go-round of dizzying departures, landings and slamming doors set in the day-glo tangerine décor of a British playboy’s lair in Paris, circa mid-1960s. Director Tad Janes does a wonderful job of embellishing playwright Marc Camoletti’s classic French farce with playful sparkle that’s even a bit edgy at times. Despite some dated themes, the play—whose 2008 Broadway revival earned it a Tony Award – still serves up a lot of funny lines and some interesting sight gags delivered by an exceptional cast.
Right away you feel the pull of the time warp back to the days when “make love, not war” was a guiding principle, thanks to set designer Brian Irons inventive use of geometric shapes, fur-covered hanging lamps, round, tangerine-colored chairs and the faux shag rug—red, yellow and orange drops of paint on the white floor.
Bernard the Brit (Jack Evans, quite good) loves his freedom, as well as the company of a beautiful woman. And he’s hooked up the perfect setup—three fiancées who work as flight attendants. When Janet from T.W.A. (the adorable Maura Lacy) kisses him goodbye after breakfast and heads to the airport, Bernard explains the beauty and genius of his juggling act to his visiting French friend Robert (the terrific Jeff Keilholtz). The pouty Jacqueline (Ashley Hall) of Air France will arrive in time for lunch. Two days with Jacqueline, and after she leaves the no-nonsense Jun (Momo Nakamura) from Japan Air Lines will open the door to the flat. The flight attendant uniforms from costume designer Julie Herber are fun and fit each woman’s personality.
“An international harem,” Robert says, amused but unwilling to accept Bernard’s offer to help him recruit his own female flight crew.
He relies on his “bible”—the international timetables for all the major airlines, to keep his three lovely stars from colliding. “The earth turns on its axis and my three fiancées wheel about the earth. One this way. One that. One towards the sun. One towards the moon,” Bernard tells Robert with a dry grin . “And eventually they all, in turn, come home to me. No alarms, no surprises. So exact as to be almost poetic.”
But the real maestro of the balancing act, the one who keeps the spinning plates from crashing to the floor, is his long-suffering housekeeper Bertha (Karen Paone-McDonald). She does all the heavy lifting, juggling all the menus for the three different women, changing the photos, making up stories when Bernard is absent with the other lover. Her deadpan delivery—and the sassy exchanges with her boss—makes for some of the most hilarious moments in the play.
Paone-McDonald is perfect, her face set in the scowl of the put-upon, overworked, underappreciated worker and unwilling co-conspirator. “I’ve got enough to do, without being kind to everybody,” she complains to Robert. “I tell you this place is a madhouse.”
Jeff Keilholtz as Robert is a wildly entertaining bundle of nervous energy as he slides into the rabbit-hole of Bernard’s quickly deteriorating love-life. At first, Keilholtz appears to be miscast. Robert is dressed like a Parisian hipster, and with his compact frame and swarthy good looks he seems out of place next to the urbane Bernard. Somehow the contrast works, as Robert becomes the circus ringmaster. He’s darting around the stage, jumping over the tangerine chairs to block a bedroom door in an effort to keep the women from discovering each other, using his hands, eyes, face and small, trim body to deflect or advance stealthy embraces. It’s fun, and almost tiring, to watch. It’s apparent that director Janes has steered Keilholtz to unleash his inner Robin Williams; Keilholtz improvises his way above and beyond some lines, and he keeps the audience laughing, wondering what he’s going to do next.
The pace of the play quickens in the second act as technology rears its ugly head, unraveling Bernard’s peaceful home life as Robert’s is becoming a bit more fun and exciting. The actors and director Janes keep it snappy throughout, and Boeing-Boeing’s inherent charm is timeless. We get to smile, laugh and enjoy a short, much needed diversion from the worries of our present day.
Boeing-Boeing plays thru April 16, 2011 at Maryland Ensemble Theatre, 31 W Patrick St Frederick, MD.
Written by Marc Camoletti . Translated by Beverly Cross
Directed by Tad Janes
Produced by Maryland Ensemble Theatre
Reviewed by Carol Chastang
Running time: 2 hours, one intermission