Boeing Boeing Takes Off: A Hilarious Farce Soaring Above Expectations
Once upon a time, circa 2008, I had the fortune of seeing Boeing Boeing on Broadway starring the great Mark Rylance (though some other cast members had been replaced). This revival was an editing by Francis Evans of the 1965 translation by Beverly Cross of an extremely popular French farce by Marc Camoletti. The revival was one of the few play modernizations that really works – and won the Best Revival Tony as a result. It has been produced multiple times since then in the Capital District, with varying degrees of success. With all that in mind, I entered the Sand Lake Center for the Arts on Friday to see the Circle Theater Players’ production of Boeing Boeing.
In a flat not far from Orly Airport outside Paris, American ex-pat and self-labeled lothario Bernard has what he thinks is a very sweet set-up, with three different fiancées of varying nationalities. The trick? Each is an airline hostess with an alternating pattern of “layovers.” Just as old school chum Robert arrives for an unscheduled visit, Bernard’s “beautifully organized” schedule begins to fall apart. As one might expect from what was originally a classic farce, the ladies all end up in Paris simultaneously, with many near misses before the eventual crash landing. What you might not expect is how much hilarity will ensue, especially in Act Two.
Berthe, Bernard’s French maid who came with the flat, is the glue that allows Bernard’s scheme to work. As a perfectly put-upon servant, Rita Machin plays Berthe, is funny from the opening scene and always has her one-liners prepped to place with precise timing. Isabella Varno takes a second stab at Gloria, having earlier portrayed her in Classic Theater Guild’s production. She has wonderfully tuned her mannerisms and has the flirtatious, quirky, social butterfly perfectly pegged. As Bernard, Shawn Morgan is slow to pick up steam but certainly does by the second scene. He never quite catches up to the rest of the company, perhaps because as the “straight” man for much of the show, he has the most challenging role.
Trying to fill the shoes of Mark Rylance, Logan Haynes also had a big challenge. He is up to it, playing Robert energetically and with great physicality, filling those shoes better than a typical community theater performer. Gabriella, the Italian hostess, is portrayed by Christine Geraci with a stellar accent. Her fiery performance shows she is the true romantic amongst the characters. Finally, Kelly Sienkiewicz graces the stage as Gretchen, the German hostess, delivering an impassioned, perfectly over-the-top entrance scene. She carries this passion throughout the play with a commanding performance that makes the audience look forward to her every entrance.
In eliciting these performances from a talented cast, the direction team of Barry Streifert, assisted by theater veteran Norm Eick, are to be commended. The blocking by and large accentuates the action and comedy of the show, though there may have been a couple moments where the audience view of Robert’s physicality could be improved. Barry does double (or triple!) duty here, in doing his own functional light and sound design; this is representative of the difficulty in finding technical help in community theater. Costumes were sharp and appropriate to the characters, though the typically seen color scheme for the air hostesses seems to have been altered for some reason. The set is wonderfully designed and decorated by Peter Quinones and Shawn Morgan. For this production, the individual décor that usually gets swapped by Berthe for each fiancée is replaced by differently-colored handkerchiefs that Bernard was constantly swapping, much to the audience’s amusement.
Especially considering my prior experience with this play, the production by Circle Theater Players exceeded expectations. And don’t forget the outstanding script of Boeing Boeing that was their playground. In other words, get out to see it yourself before it takes off for good.