Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Boeing Boeing
6th Street Playhouse
Review by Patrick Thomas

Also see Richard's reviews of The House That Will Not Stand and The Speakeasy

Taylor Bartolucci DeGuilio, Julianne Lorenzen and Melissa Claire
There was a moment, about midway through the first act, when I realized the production of Boeing Boeing now playing at the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa had been upgraded to first class. It happened when one of the characters stormed off stage, closing the door behind her with some real vigor. When it shut with a solid, reverberating thunk I thought, "if you're going to have a slamming doors farce, it helps that they slam in such a satisfying manner." No hollow-core doors hung in flimsy 2x4 frames for this production—with all the comings and goings they wouldn't make it past the third scene intact.

Truth be told, I knew the audience at the G.K. Hardt theatre was in for a great evening much earlier than that. In fact, the first time Gloria (the "air hostess" played by Taylor Bartolucci DeGuilio) bounds onto the stage with the enthusiasm and boundless energy of a golden retriever, it's hard to do anything but smile. By the time the rest of this excellent cast makes their entrances (and exits and entrances and ...) you'd be well advised to just give in to all the silliness and mirth and let the laughter flow.

Boeing Boeing is a farce in the classic style. Written in 1960 by French playwright Marc Camoletti, the story is incredibly simple: Bernard (Chris Sigrist), an American architect living in Paris, is a complete rake, living the playboy's dream. He's "engaged" to three different air hostesses, each of whom is on a different schedule, flying for a different airline. Gloria, the American, works for TWA. (The play is set in 1962, when TWA was still a going concern.) Signora Gabriella (Melissa Claire) flies for Alitalia and Fräulein Gretchen (Julianne Lorenzen) for Lufthansa. None know of the others' existence. With mathematical precision, Bernard manages to keep all the schedules in order—until the fateful day when timetables and weather fail him, and he must find a way to keep his secret when all three women are in Paris at the same time.

There are two keys to a successful farce: timing and physical comedy. Director Carl Jordan and his cast deliver both in spades. Each of the six actors brings something unique and wonderful to the production. The three young women playing Bernard's multiple fiancées wear their tight skirts and zoom in and out of the many doors in fits of anger or bursts of affection. (My one quibble would be Melissa Claire's accent: is Gabriella Italian or Russian?) Sigrist, as Bernard, unfortunately gets the short end of the comedy stick. All the best action happens around him while he plays beleaguered straight man.

Although the story is ostensibly about Bernard and his troika of girl toys, it's two outsiders who steal the show. As Bertha, Bernard's stoic housekeeper, the woman who helps him keep everything flowing smoothly, Ellen Brooks absolutely shines. She has a marvelous comic French accent, a brilliant deadpan manner—and wields a feather duster as though it were Excalibur. Brooks is a laugh magnet: every time she enters, you know something hilarious is going to happen. And since hers is the only door that doesn't slam (it's a swinging door to the kitchen), she finds a way to make her exits just as memorable.

But as brilliant as Brooks' Bertha is, she is outshone by Larry Williams' portrayal of Bernard's school chum Robert. Robert is a bit of naïf, a Wisconsin farm boy who drops in on Bernard just as his timetables are beginning to unravel. Williams gives us one great physical moment after another. I thought the bean bag chair looked out of place in an architect's apartment (especially since the chair wasn't introduced to the public until 1969, seven years after the action takes place), but once I saw what Williams could do with it, I forgave both the anachronism and design faux pas. When he has to produce a lie to support his friend's story, Williams' arms fly like one of those semi-inflated dancing figures you see in used car lots.

Phoenix Ritchie's scenic designs mostly work, but I wish he'd had a bit bigger budget for furnishings. The set itself is terrific, but the living room suite looks like a collection of hand-me-downs from Scandinavian Designs, circa 1978.

Though the rooms aren't well-dressed, the actors are, thanks to costume designer Diana Velika's excellent work. The three air hostesses are stunning in red, yellow and blue, while Bertha and Bernard are clad in simple black and white and midwestern Robert is decked out in earth-toned tweeds—perfect for his ostensibly boring character.

If your idea of the perfect getaway is 2+ hours of giddy silliness, I suggest booking a seat aboard Boeing Boeing. No security check required. If only all journeys were as pleasant as this.

Boeing Boeing runs through March 9, 2014, in the G.K. Hardt Theatre at the 6th Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Thursday tickets are $25 general, $20 for seniors and youth (13-21), and $15 for children 12 and under, and $32 general, $27 for seniors/youth and $15 for children on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available online at, by calling the box office at (707) 523-4185 or during open box office hours.

Photo: Eric Chazankin (with special thanks to the Pacific Air Museum)

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Patrick Thomas