Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Written by French playwright Marc Camoletti, with an English translation by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans, Boeing Boeing is set in the 1960s Paris apartment of Bernard, an American who is currently engaged to three air hostesses of different nationalities though he has no plans to actually marry any of them. None of the three girls have any clue that the others exist because Bernard has carefully calculated everything based on the fight timetables for their three respective airlines. While one fiancée is on a plane leaving Paris, a second is arriving in town, with the third already in the air thousands of miles away. This way, he has a different girl every two days and never gets bored. He claims he has all of the advantages of married life with none of the drawbacks.
Bernard's housekeeper Berthe tries to help him, but she is insufferable, completely agitated and tired of the constant changes of menus to accommodate the girls' very different palates, along with having to continually switch out the personal photos and the linens every time a new girl has touched down and is on her way to Bernard's apartment. But weather delays, a new faster Boeing jet which would speed up the travel times, and Berthe's constant threats to quit all get in the way to destroy Bernard's perfectly planned out life. Fortunately, Bernard's school friend Robert has just arrived in town from Wisconsin and he tries his best to help Bernard keep the girls from knowing that another one is also in the house, even when a storm over the Atlantic means all three of them happen to all be in Paris at the same time.
Director Rick Davis, who also plays Robert, ensures the comedy has the pacing that farce requires. While the structure of the comedy is a little slow in the beginning, as it introduces the characters and the setup, Davis doesn't add in any unnecessary bits of business that would slow it down any further. As the events unfold and begin to spiral out of control and Robert and Bernard get deeper and deeper into trying to maintain that everything is just fine, Davis allows the show to build to an all-out frenzy with well-timed precision from his cast. While there might have been a few missed comical lines at the performance I attended, Davis' entire cast deliver heightened comical performances that get as many laughs as possible from the fun and funny script.
Robert at first appears somewhat quiet and timid, a fish out of water who has never been in Paris and also has very little experience with women. As the plot thickens and the lies stack up on top of each other, he quickly becomes frenzied and a nervous wreck. Davis' bright wide eyes, manic gestures and exaggerated facial expressions deliver some big laughs. He also does well with the many fast-paced moments and back and forth dialogue with his other cast members.
Paul Hartwell's Bernard is your perfect '60s man who thinks he can have it all until all hell breaks loose. He exhibits a smugness along with real, romantic and loving gestures with each of the girls, but he is also eager to tell Robert of his exploits. Hartwell plays all of these elements of Bernard fairly well. However, in the second act when the character complains that he's having a mental breakdown, there isn't much change in Hartwell's performance; a slightly more frantic, frazzled and flustered portrayal would have added additional bits of comic business to the role.
The ladies in the show are all pretty good. While all four are basically playing exaggerated stereotypes of the '60s, they play them splendidly. Cat Hartmann is Berthe and she manages to deliver a good amount of funny business along with a high air of agitation and a funny French accent. As the three air hostesses, Vanessa Benjamin, Gigi Sibilla and Jocelyn Smarr are creating unique and fun characters. Sibilla and Smarr also pull off very humorous accents. Benjamin is very good as Gloria, the American, who is much smarter, and calculating, than she first lets on. Sibilla infuses the Italian Gabriella with fire and romance along with a lot of fun melodrama. Smarr is an absolute hoot as the German, Gretchen, who is all hard and rough around the edges. She is a fiery, domineering force to reckon with but also oozes a deep passion for life. The role of Gretchen is the best of the three fiancées and Smarr throws herself into it with glee and panache.
The DST Actor's Café stage is an incredibly small space, but Davis, along with Virginia Olivieri and Rick Sandifer, have crafted a set design with the requisite multiple doors the script calls for that is both inventive and smart. Mickey Courtney's colorful costumes and Olivieri's beautiful hair and make-up designs are period perfect.
With a fun cast, crisp direction, good comic timing and smart creative elements, Desert Stages' Boeing Boeing is engaging, fun and highly enjoyable.
Boeing Boeing, through October 7, 2018, at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre, in Scottsdale Fashion Square, 7014 East Camelback Road, Suite 0586, Scottsdale AZ. For information and tickets, call 480-483-1664 or visit desertstages.org.
Director: Rick Davis