Encore Michigan

‘Boeing Boeing’ is a flight of delight at Tipping Point

Review October 10, 2017 Patrice Nolan

NORTHVILLE, Mich. – Tipping Point Theatre returns to 20th Century French farce with the Tony Award-winning Boeing Boeing. TPT has a history with playwright Marc Camoletti, having launched its inaugural 2006 season with the bedroom farce Don’t Dress for Dinner, and then celebrating its 10th anniversary by bringing it back to enthusiastic audiences and critical acclaim. Now, with Boeing Boeing, patrons are led on a merry, somewhat familiar romp through Marc Camoletti’s original outrageous take on the swinging ‘60s.

Let’s be clear – this era exhibited a fundamental myopia regarding gender equality. Fortunately, Camoletti (with deft script translation by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans) sees beyond the double-standards to lampoon the universal foolishness of all human beings. As with any period comedy, the humor is found in certain tropes which would have been easily recognized by contemporary audiences. For example, the hero of our tale, Bernard, is an American architect living in Paris. Per ‘60s comedic conventions, he is a sophisticated, virile male in pursuit of the international gold standard of feminine beauty, to wit, a sexy airline hostess.

Let’s unpack a few of these euphemisms. “Swinging” describes a general hedonistic disregard for social convention; “sophisticated” suggests our hero is deviously non-committal – in fact, a polygamist; “virile” is a genteel way of saying “horny;” “companionship” infers there will be a meal followed by sex; and “airline hostess” designates the young, boobacious, exclusively female, flight attendants who will inevitably be sacked when they age or gain weight, whichever comes first. The hostesses, who are anything but ditzy, are motivated by a shrinking window of opportunity to land a wealthy husband who will provide a lifetime of security – or alimony – whichever comes first.

If this sounds absurd, you have officially embraced the proper spirit for enjoying the classic French farce now being served up at Tipping Point Theatre. Splendidly performed by actors who ensure non-stop laughter with their very body language, Boeing Boeing is well worth any guilt we may feel about absolving shallow values and blatant sexism.

The plot spins on the premise that the self-styled playboy Bernard (David Bendena) has hit on the perfect scheme for enjoying the “companionship” of three women who each think they are his one-and-only. Bernard’s secret is that his girlfriends are all international airline hostesses working for competing airlines. Studying his flight timetable, Bernard has secured the affection of women who mathematically can never cross paths because they follow rigid, mutually exclusive schedules. Better yet, as Bernard smugly brags to his Wisconsin friend Robert (Aral Gribbel), the airlines have done the challenging pre-screening work, providing Bernard with an elite candidate pool of the finest female specimens. It’s a perfect, crash-proof plan.

Of course, this is a farce, which means that the impossible quickly becomes the inevitable. When a violent North Atlantic storm system and a super-high-speed Boeing jet bring Gloria from TWA (Dani Cochrane), Gretchen from Lufthansa (Hallie Bee Bard), and Gabriella from Alitalia (Maggie Meyer) all to Paris on layover, Bernard and Robert desperately juggle flight bags, bedrooms and libidos to keep the women from meeting. With the assistance of Bernard’s long-suffering, world-wise housekeeper Berthe (Nancy Penvose), they almost pull it off. Almost.

Boeing Boeing is physical comedy played to the point of exhaustion – and that’s just for the audience who is kept in side-splitting giggles. Imagine a game of Twister played by six people who can only see two other players at any given time. The timing and choreography required to have everyone change position without jostling each other is miraculous. Director Dave Davies, who knows “funny” as well as anybody in town, works his agile ensemble to deliver a play that is irresistible to watch. Bendena is brilliant as the cocky, self-assured womanizer who dissolves into a puddle of “why me” hysteria when his sky starts to fall. Conversely, Aral Gribbel works the awe-shucks-naive-Wisconsin-boy angle to make some unexpected scores. The three “hostess” characters in this play are surprisingly likeable, with distinct characters and a lot of moxie; the actresses show that they are nobody’s fools. Petite Nancy Penvose, as the domestic servant Berthe, has many fine scenes in which her curmudgeonly character must reinvent itself to anticipate the demands of whichever mistress is in possession of the flat. At one point, the mental strain reduces her to rag-doll status, and she literally appears to have no bones. It’s a thing of beauty.

The thrust stage scenic design by Lisa Borton and props by Rebecca Godwin are simple but vintage ‘60s, replete with Blood Orange swivel chairs and lime green accents. Costumes are by Suzanne Young, lighting is by Don W. Baschal, sound design is by Sonja Marquis, and Tracy L. Spada serves as the stage manager on top of the split-second timing.

One last note about Boeing Boeing and its ‘60s brand of humor: the language is curse-word free and the S-E-X is implied but never made explicit, so it’s prime-time-audience friendly. Be prepared to laugh your baguettes off at this no-holds-barred production at Tipping Point Theatre.

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