Monday, 7 March 2016

Comic collision or comic calamity?

This past week I published a review of Boeing, Boeing with the Telegram.  The original play in French by Marc Camoletti was written in the sixties.  It is a farce that has been adapted for screen several times, for example the Hollywood version featured Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis and it has even been done three times for Bollywood in India.  It is a classic battle of the sexes plot and I was wondering how it would play to a post-feminist audience.  What I probably should have been more concerned about is the customary cross-dressing shtick and how that would wash with our transgendered times.  Turns out the audience didn't share my concerns–or at least I couldn't tell if they did.

Boeing Boeing
Joint Productions
Barbara Barrett Theatre, March 3-5, 2016

The opening Paris apartment scene of Boeing Boeing, sparks the interest of the audience with the vividly drawn characters of the king-of-smug, bachelor Bernard, his honey pot, fiancé Gloria, and the long-suffering, stoic maid Berthe.  In quick succession, we are introduced to the other two "high flying" fiancés–all three are airline stewardesses or Bernard's very own international harem.  Mix in the arrival of the periwinkle-eyed Robert from Wisconsin and you have a guaranteed comic collision.

Bernard explains to Robert that he keeps his conjugal life in perpetual motion with the help of an international airline schedule.  You keep one ascending, one descending and one in flight.  The audience knows from the get-go that this is a simple plan ripe for disaster and waits with bated breath to watch Bernard's love life go down in flames.  Boeing Boeing premiered in 1960 as a thigh slapping farce and the appeal of watching a cad get his comeuppance has not diminished.

Joint Productions' version starts out on a relatively mellow romantic note and smoothly but quickly gains speed and volume.  In short time, the cast members are striking melodramatic poses, dripping memorable accents and slamming doors with hyperbolic threats.  The beauty of it is that it is all self-evident and the audience is seduced into that suspension of disbelief.  By the time intermission rolls around, the plot is teetering on the edge of its crescendo. In anticipation, audience members are taking bets on which one of the lovelies will snag their catch.  Will it be the willful American Gloria (Lynn Panting) with her Marilyn Monroe pout, the Germanic Gretchen (Hillary Bushell) with the powerful passion worthy of Wagnerian opera or the sultry Italian Gabriella (Alanah Whiteway) with the Sophia Loren strut?  Or will they ultimately combine forces and engage the men in a battle of the sexes?  The second act and the play's conclusion provide a satisfying but unexpected ending.

This image comes from a U.S. production (not by Joint)
 that shows the infamous man with "his lingerie" scene.

Bernard (Glenn Gaulton) and Robert (Phil Goodridge) make the perfect odd couple.  Both actors have played these characters in Marc Camoletti's companion farce Don't Dress for Dinner and that no doubt informs their chemistry on stage.  It would be too simple to describe them as a study in opposites although their physical differences are clear assets.  They trade emotional places effortlessly pivoting from calm to calamity.  Berthe (Janet O'Reilly) too orbits her own emotional range from sanguine to sarcastic and back again.

Ultimately, Boeing Boeing is an ensemble acting effort that works, especially in the risk taking second act when the slapstick action and one-liners reach near hysteria.  Director Ian Campbell is to be credited with an attention to detail that ranges from the mood music that greets you when you enter the theatre to ensuring that every member of Joint Productions is regarded as a collaborator.

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