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Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Boeing Boeing
Ross Valley Players
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's recent reviews of On Clover Road and The Boys from Syracuse

Mark Vashro, Sean Garahan, and Jessica Lea Risco
Photo by Gregg Le Blanc
Marc Camoletti's Boeing Boeing is a farce in the classical style: ridiculous plot elements, exaggerated characters, improbable coincidences, and lots of slamming doors. All the action takes place inside the lovely Paris apartment of Bernard (Sean Garahan), an American architect living a playboy's life in the City of Light. Bernard is simultaneously dating three young "air hostesses," each of whom flies for a different international airline, allowing Bernard to keep "one up, one down, one pending," making each believe they are his fiancée. He gets most of the benefits of marriage with none of the downside. But when airline timetables change and weather interferes, messing with Bernard's mathematically precise scheduling, things get very tense for Bernard. Especially when all three of his paramours end up in Paris at the same time.

Bernard is assisted in this subterfuge by two accomplices: his housekeeper Berthe (Alison Whismore) and school chum Robert (Mark Vashro), who has dropped in unexpectedly from Wisconsin on his way to visit relatives in Provence. They manage to keep the three women apart far longer than common sense would suggest is possible. But this is a farce, so one suspends disbelief and accepts that when one woman closes a door, she can't hear any of the tumult happening on the other side.

While an audience will forgive lapses in logic in a farce, what's harder to overlook is the fact that a farce requires a light touch, even when the emotions are outsized and the physical comedy veers toward the border with slapstick. It is this lack of subtlety and lightness that is weighing down a play that has the potential to be side-splittingly funny. Director Christian Haines leads his cast like an army of tank drivers prepared to crush whatever stands in their way. Brick wall or delicate flower, he runs over them all with the same brute force.

The cast features some fine performances, especially Whismore as the uncooperative housekeeper. The French accent she constructs for Berthe is just right, and she projects a air of Gallic superiority that playwright Camoletti fashioned for her. Camoletti also plays with stereotypes to comic effect, with Lufthansa hostess Gretchen (Jayme Catalano) exhibiting a Germanic efficiency and self-confidence and Gabriella (Robyn Grahn)—who flies for Alitalia—showing more interest in family. Bernard's American fiancée Gloria (Jessica Lea Risco) is fascinated by the technological advances in aircraft. Of the three, it's Catalano's Gretchen that gets the most laughs, rampaging through her scenes with tremendous force. Mark Vashro also does a fine job of portraying the reserved (yet still over-sexed) Robert. With different direction, I think this cast could have mined far more laughter—though Sean Garahan is miscast in his role, lacking the suave, debonair style the role requires.

Highest praise, though, goes to Ken Rowland for creating an elegant set in creams and taupes, with furnishings that provide just the right hints of vibrancy. Costume designer Michael Berg has done a fine job dressing the cast—except for the horrendous red bathrobe Bernard is wearing over his clothes in the first scene. It's just completely wrong for the character.

Ultimately, the heaviness of director Christian Haines's approach to this frothy bit of fun is simply too much for the cast (or the text) to overcome, and while this flight doesn't go down in flames, that may only be because it never quite gets airborne.

Boeing Boeing plays Thursdays-Sundays through May 1, 2016, at the Barn Theatre, located in the Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Ticket prices are $29 general admission, $25 for seniors 62+ and $14 for children under 18 and students with valid high school or college ID. Tickets can be ordered by calling 415-456-9555, ext. 1 or visiting