Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Rob's review of Mary Stuart
The Santa Fe Playhouse's production of this classic farce, written by Marc Camoletti and translated by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans, seems to me less "us too" and more "let's show our versatility as a well-rounded theater company and do a funny farce for a change." A smart move. The slightly creaky but still comically viable script proves a great vehicle for a talented cast, helmed here by a skilled director in Jeff Nell, who knows how to milk the laughs without beating the cow to death.
Bernard, an American businessman who lives and works in Paris, is visited by his school chum Robert "from Wisconsin." (We don't know where in Wisconsin, but it's apparently a place where nerdy guys like Robert can't get a lot of traction with the local ladies.) Robert comes quickly to learn that ol' Bernard has himself a pretty enviable set-up: he is fiancé to three different "air hostesses": Gloria, who flies with TWA; Gabriella, with Alitalia; and Gretchen, with Lufthansa. Through careful coordination of their travel schedules, he has been successful in keeping each of the three from knowing about the other twothat is, until a perfect storm of both a literal storm and a new, speedier Boeing craft, puts all of them at his bachelor pad on the very same night. Thanks to lots of rooms behind lots of doors and fortuitous timing, the balls are kept awkwardly airborne until that inevitable point in the third act (yep, this is one of those old fashioned three-act plays) when the juggler loses his balls (both metaphorically and somewhat literally) and even his helpful friend Robert can't save him.
Having spent a lot of time familiarizing myself with the seasonal offerings of community theaters around the country, I've wondered how well this clockwork farce flies in the hands of a less skillful director and under-gifted actors. Farce is hard and most plays of this type succeed not because of a crackerjack script (very few slapstick romps, in this playwright's opinion, are very well written) but because of the ability of all involved to prime the comedy engine of the production with lots of inventive silliness. Inventive silliness is in great abundance in this very physical production, delivered by Brett Becker as Bernard; Deborah Martinez as the almost insubordinately opinionated French "domestic servant" Berthe; Samantha Orner, the self-confident and self-empowered Gloria; and Megan Colburn as the syrupy romantic Gabriella.
But it is the performances of Kev Smith as Robert and Christine Smith as Teutonic Gretchen, that had the strongest impact on this reviewer's usually dormant funny-bone. There is no performance I've seen in my five years of Santa Fe playgoing that had me laughing as hard as I did at Christine's Gretchen, who can elicit a collective belly-laugh from an audience with just a simple look of pique or a sudden, unforeseen pivot of emotion. Likewise, Kev Smith, who reminded this reviewer of a cuddly Tim Conway, took lines both well-penned and oddly clunky, and gave them a humorous warmth delivered consistently throughout all three acts.
Special mention should be made of the show's costumes. Designer Ellen Parker's bold color palette and appropriately groovy "fly me!" stewardess outfits are both sexy and cartoonesque in evoking a period in which flight attending was a profession of choice for women still forced to wear career handcuffs. Sarah Runyan contributed to the unattributed set design, which through beige and monochrome offers the perfect backdrop to allow all the color of the costumes and accompanying overnight bags to pop.
The Playhouse has given us a lot of thoughtful and even somber work for the stage over the last couple of seasons. The lighter fare of a clearly tummy-tickling offering like Boeing Boeing is a welcome addition to this strong season for the Santa Fe Playhouse.
Boeing Boeing, through March 11, 2018, at the Santa Fe Playhouse, 142 East De Vargas Street, Santa Fe NM. Performance times are Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. For tickets and information, visit www.santafeplayhouse.org or 505-988-4262. The running time is around 2 ½ hours; there are two intermissions.