It’s hard to believe, but air travel wasn’t always about long lines, uncomfortable seats and the opportunity to get poked and prodded by strangers. There weren’t always fees to check your bag, and if you wanted a decent martini at cruising altitude you could pretty well bet it was on the menu.
Sadly, those days are gone for most of us, but the glitz and glamour of air travel is alive and well in No Rules Theater Company’s production of Boeing Boeing.
The play is set entirely in the Parisian flat of an American architect named Bernard (Nick Kowalczyk). In the opening scene, Bernard and his American fiancé Gloria (Sherry Berg) – a flight attendant for TWA – are discussing her travel plans over breakfast.
But it’s only upon the unexpected arrival of Bernard’s Wisconsin-born friend Robert (Jamie Smithson) that we learn the real motive behind Bernard’s seemingly insatiable desire for the details of his fiancée’s schedule. Bernard is secretly a self-described polygamist, and is actually engaged to three flight attendants from three separate airlines: the aforementioned Gloria, Gabriella (Jenna Berk) of the Italian airline Alitalia and Gretchen (Sarah Olmsted Thomas) of the German airline Lufthansa.
Through rigorous attention to their schedules, a little duplicity and the assistance of his in-house French serving-woman Berthe (Helen Hedman), Bernard manages to keep them entirely secret from one another. And Bernard bears this secret to his far less suave friend Robert, who is both aghast and impressed – that is, until the phone rings and they discover that Bernard’s best-laid plans are about to go awry.
If you can’t tell where this plane intends to land by now, then you may have overindulged at the beverage cart. The three fiancées have all experienced a change of plans (as so many of us do when we fly) and are now simultaneously bound for the Paris apartment they share with Bernard.
There’s hijinks and hilarity aplenty, and Boeing’s cast carries the play well. Helen Hedman plays the loyal but perennially annoyed Berthe wonderfully, while Nick Kowalczyk keeps the audience guessing with a wild, stressed-out smile, portraying a Bernard that is part cult leader and part evil genius.
But it’s Jamie Smithson’s awkward bumbling that steals the show. Smithson has an almost rubber-like quality to his face that’s perfect for comedy. He’s got crazy eyes and a wild tongue, and he doesn’t hesitate to throw himself across the room or wag his posterior at the audience to sell a gag.
And thankfully, the myriad accents required for the American, French, Italian and German characters are carried out skillfully and gracefully (save perhaps for Smithson’s Wisconsin accent which – except for a few “doncha’ knows” – wasn’t really there).
Costume Designer Chelsey Schuller also deserves credit for some stylish work. You don’t need to hear a single line to know who’s who in this smartly designed performance, because the costumes speak for themselves.
As for the play itself, there are some perfect landings and some missed connections. There’s nothing particularly smart about the humor of the play, which relies mostly on near-misses and mistaken identity gags to highlight the utter chaos of juggling three women in secret. There’s a little slapstick and a whole lot of shouting, which sometimes is good for a laugh and sometimes has the feel of an improv sketch that’s gone on too long.
Boeing Boeing also has all the problematic trappings of a 60’s’-era comedy. It’s Bernard’s longtime friend Robert who is doing the lion’s share of the work to keep the three fiancées from discovering one another. What’s not clear is why Robert – who early on in the play is horrified by Bernard’s lifestyle – suddenly is willing to work so hard to maintain it for him.
More than that, it becomes clear as the play carries on that Robert wants more than just to save his friend – he wants in on the action. And he isn’t afraid to use cunning and even blackmail to coerce the fiancés into a kiss (or maybe even a little more). Yes, our hero, everyone. Yikes.
Closes June 29, 2014
4200 Campbell Avenue
2 hours with 1 intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
For me, when the aw-shucks country boy from Wisconsin suddenly turns into a predator, the light-hearted comedy got a little dark.
Having said that, the play is meant in good fun, and the audience was slapping their thighs and clapping with laughter from start to finish. There are some surprising moments that will make you laugh out loud, (Sherry Berg’s kiss technique among them), and the general sense of desperation and an ever-deepening hole the two men have dug for themselves is enough to keep you smiling and on the edge of your seat from start to finish.
Maybe it was all a bit smarmy for my taste, and by the end I was ready for Bernard to get his comeuppance (and I’m not saying that he does – no spoilers here).
But the audience was roaring all around me, and from time to time I found myself joining in. So the evidence is clear – Boeing Boeing can win big laughs, even at a late performance on a Thursday night. And even a bumpy ride that gets you where you’re going comfortably, and with a smile, is a good flight in my book.
Boeing Boeing by Marc Camoletti . Directed by Matt Cowart . Featuring Sherry Berg, Jenna Berk, Helen Hedman, Nick Kowalczyk, Sarah Olmsted Thomas and Jamie Smithson . Scenic design: John Bowhers . Costume design: Chelsey Schuller . Sound design: Derek Knoderer . Lighting design: Travis McHale . Props design: Sierra Banack . Technical director: Jason Krznarich . Production stage manager: Eric Arnold . Produced by No Rules Theatre Company . Reviewed by Jon Boughtin.