The 1960s piece satirizes an American play-the-field young man named Bernard (Vince Nappo), who feels great about his inclination to maintain relations with three stereotypical stewardesses. Based in Paris where he is, nominally, an architect, Bernard maintains a life, first, with cutesy and airy Gloria (Kelly D. Felthous), who works for TWA. When she is (literally) up in the air, Bernard hopes that sultry, Italian Gabriella (Kathleen McElfresh) is then grounded and not flying with Alitalia. The final participant (and each thinks that she is the significant woman for Bernard) and dominating her scenes to theater patrons' delight, is husky-voiced Gretchen (Claire Brownell). She works for Lufthansa. Bernard's pretentious womanizing, according to the calendar and clock, would be a mess were it not for Berthe (Denny Dillon), the French maid. Her multi-tasking includes mediating, facilitating, and preparing food for just about anyone who might appear on the scene.
Early on, Wisconsin native and Bernard's onetime undergraduate buddy Robert (Ryan Farley) shows up in Bernard's smooth looking living room. Robert, initially, is: inexperienced, gawky, unknowing and under-confident when it comes to women. His role, to understate in deadpan fashion, changes. Farley's touch (however one interprets the word) is deft and the actor's development and versatility with his character are highlights of the two hour and 30 minute production.
Director Maxwell Williams and his ensemble demonstrate nifty and precise timing. What could be more important to the success of a nimble farce? It might all seem simple to those viewing, but in reality, the achievement is quite significant. Yes, there are sight gags and a few doors to various rooms ... but the interplay, within the greater play, enable jokes to fly swiftly.
Camoletti's plot is not complex but includes plenty of room for mischief amongst his players. That said, the beginning of the first act moves slowly. This is a comic parody: eventually, Boeing-Boeing makes a mockery of Bernard. In order to get there, playwright Camoletti must provide the set-up for the audience. Yes, the plot dictates a deliberate simmer. That is much wiser than forcing people to immediately trip or jump up and down on one another. If so, many would cry too much too soon. Instead, this script evolves to a point late in the first act where caricature triumphs. From here until its conclusion, the farce becomes delectably ludicrous.
The sixties epoch (a time well before contemporary attendants tended airline travelers) stipulated that stewardesses be younger than 32 years of age and unmarried. What was not stated was that the women please the eyes of male passengers. The employees were surely underpaid.
Felthous, as Gloria, is blonde and perky. Extroverted and chatty, she has a distinctive take on Bernard. McElfresh, playing Gabriella, is sultry and sexy. Brownell's Gretchen, though, grabs the spotlight; the character and this particular actress are physical, uninhibited, and just a tad audacious.
Costumer Thomas Charles Legalley's wardrobe choices for the women are a hoot. Colors, especially bright red for Gloria and glaring yellow for Gretchen, are simultaneously suitable yet delightfully outrageous. The play references a time gone by and everyone is transported to a Technicolor age.
In all, Boeing-Boeing serves as a fine tonic on a chilly evening in winter. No heightened airport security is evident. See for yourself.
Boeing-Boeing continues at Hartford Stage through February 12th. For tickets, call (860) 527-5151 or visit hartfordstage.org.
- Fred Sokol