Pulling off a farce like Boeing Boeing requires a keen ability to juggle a myriad of moving parts, and the faster and furiouser those parts move, the better. This is largely the reason the 1965 Tony Curtis/Jerry Lewis film adaptation fails (along with its utter lack of ironic distance toward its characters’ sexist attitudes) – it feels hermetically sealed, never ramping up to the level of inspired chaos that characterized Lewis’ collaborations with Frank Tashlin.
Fortunately, Seattle Rep’s production of Boeing Boeing is a kinetic marvel – a whirlwind of physical comedy and hilarious sight gags courtesy of a litany of literal moving parts in the kitsch-chic set design. Marc Camoletti’s oft-produced comedy, once considered the most performed French play in the world, is no timeless classic, but director Allison Narver and her delightful cast wring every ounce of funny out of this chestnut.
Richard Nguyen Sloniker cranks up the smarm as American ex-pat Bernard, a wealthy architect living in Paris who’s managed to get himself engaged to three women at once – air hostesses on three different airlines and three different routes whose divergent schedules allow Bernard to enjoy the company of all three without anyone becoming the wiser. The ruse is largely dependent on the faithful service of longsuffering maid Berthe (Anne Allgood), who adjusts the menu and the photographs depending on that evening’s guest.
When Bernard receives a surprise visit from old school chum Robert (Mark Bedard), he’s excited to show him the ropes of his elaborate scheme, but wouldn’t you know it, scheduling snafus send all three women into Paris at the same time, forcing the guys and Berthe to keep each one unaware of the others’ existence. There’s the bombastic New Yorker Gloria (Bhama Roget), the saucy Italian Gabriella (Angela DiMarco) and the stern German Gretchen (Cheyenne Casebier), all hoping to spend some quality time with Bernard and all wondering why their usual bedroom is suddenly occupied.
Everyone’s a walking stereotype in Boeing Boeing, but Narver keeps the energy so high, there’s little time to worry about it. The pratfall MVP award belongs to Bedard, who translates Robert’s nebbishy awkwardness into gangly physical poetry, flopping all over the furniture like he doesn’t understand how limbs work. One of the production’s perfect moments features Bedard hoisting his luggage into the apartment; an attempt to wrangle a massive trunk to the right bedroom while Allgood observes unhelpfully is superbly timed.
Speaking of Allgood, her every move and line reading is perfectly timed – biting retorts flow forth in a ceaseless stream of exasperation that proves to be the play’s most reliable source of hilarity. Even if the rest of the production was in shambles, she’d make it worth the ticket price. Is there anything Anne Allgood can’t do?
Also extraordinary is Carey Wong’s scenic design, a single ’60s mod apartment set with stylish clean lines and a host of hidden accoutrements, from control panels to electronic maps. The crowning glory? A front-and-center fish tank bar that rises from the ground.
Boeing Boeing is the most perfectly executed comedy I’ve seen on stage this year. It runs at Seattle Rep through May 19. Tickets are available for purchase online.
Photo: Chris Bennion