“Boeing Boeing” flies right at The Tibbits
COLDWATER, Mich.– Boeing Boeing is a throwback play, a trip back to the 1960s when intelligent farce was a genre with more than a few examples. The Tibbits Summer Theatre chose well to wrap up its summer fare.
The play is one of the most frequently performed plays in both professional and community theatre the world over, because the humor of this originally French play travels well to every language and culture. A suave bachelor lives in a Paris flat, and he is engaged to three flight attendants at the same time. He is proud of the fact that he manages the flight time-tables perfectly to avoid having the ladies converge on his apartment at the same time. But there is a new Boeing airliner, super-fast, that is turning his time management into a bollox. All three hit Paris at the same time, and the play becomes a raucous, funny game of hide-and-seek and near-misses.
For some, it may seem like a creaky moldy oldie. After all, the 1966 film with Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis was touted as “the big comedy of nineteen-sexty-sex.” Ugh. Indeed, the story’s six characters are stereotypes the brand of which became the bread and butter of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films, or a 60’s film like “Some Like It Hot.” And that is the strength of the story it turns out, and the secret of its worldwide success. The stereotypes – right down to the nerdy school chum, Robert – who becomes an over-sexed accomplice of the protagonist Bernard, hoping for a taste of his buxom, leggy table scraps, are funny.
So, to make it work, it all comes down to execution and casting. Director Charles Burr was blessed this season with being able to cast three deliciously sexy and strong comedic actresses–Catherine Skojek, Jaclyn Collins and Jennifer Barnaba as the fiancee/”air hostesses.” Skojek as the German flight attendant is particularly entertaining as she draws on wonderful physical comedy to convey her German passion for Bernard and…well…almost everything , as she seems to be trying to prove that the Germans are the real world lovers, not the French or Italians.
Mitch Voss as Bernard comes off as more of an actuary through most of the first act than a debonair bachelor that three beautiful women bubbling over with passion would fall for. He loosens up in the second act when the farcical tension mounts—thank goodness for the material’s sake. Peter Riopelle as school chum Robert Lambert, plays the nebbish pretty well, but with a series of good moments, rather than a consistently funny portrayal. And I was bothered by the poor transition of his arrival in the story–not having seen Bernard for 20 years–to being fully integrated into Bernard’s life in seconds.
Gloria Logan as Berthe, Bernard’s housekeeper, like Riopelle’s Robert, has many good moments, but also takes the stereotype of her role as the surly, saucy, wise-cracking snarkish caretaker of Bernard’s deception a little too much to heart and bounces between well-deserved yucks and groan-inducing predictable moves. It’s a key and tough role to get just right. On balance, though, she gets it right enough.
The set was immaculate and just right. Bernard’s Paris flat looks bit like it was designed by the same person who designed a Pan Am Airlines VIP lounge in the 60s, with lots of white, orange leather, stainless steel–like a home furnishings exhibit from the Museum of Modern Art.
Boeing Boeing is a gem from the 1960s that still holds up as well today as shows like “The Odd Couple” and “How To Succeed in Business.” Sure, it’s not sophisticated humor. But it stands the test of time, especially in good professional hands. And The Tibbits does a fine job of delivering it as a delightful digestif to its fine season.