Boeing Boeing: High-flying fun at Vancouver’s Magenta Theatre
By James Van Eaton
How to make the perfect 1960’s French Farce cocktail
● Start with one cavalier bachelor
● Add a well-meaning, but overwhelmed Wisconsinite
● Stir in three air hostesses of unequaled verve and passion
● Shake well
● Garnish with a surly, veteran French maid
● Sit back and enjoy
It’s a recipe for hilarious disaster that Vancouver’s Magenta Theater serves up funny and fast, if not always perfectly blended.
Boeing Boeing tells the story of Bernard, an American architect living in Paris who, with the help of his long-suffering and grudgingly compliant maid Berthe and an indispensable book of airline timetables, has managed to juggle the affections of three vivacious air hostesses to a point where each has become a fiancé. It’s a precise system of breakfasts, lunches, and layovers that Bernard is pleased to impart to his old friend Robert, a mild-mannered visitor from the states, whose initial marvel at Bernard’s skilful balancing act turns to slightly terrified excitement when first one, then two, and finally all three woman show up unexpectedly. Bernard, Robert, and Berthe must then work in haphazard union to keep the once-perfect deception afloat, and the ensuing hijinks unfold with frantic and thrilling abandon. It’s six characters, seven doors, and a whole lot of laughter.
Marc Camoletti’s original script (and its translation to English by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans) hails from the early 1960’s, and Magenta’s technical team of set designers, costumers, hair and make-up experts, and more have pooled their talents to create a world of blaringly vivid furniture, perfectly pinned hairstyles, and stewardess costumes to die for. The spacious, colorfully-arranged set recalls the style and flow of classic TV sitcoms and provides ample setting for lively characters and chaotic situations. It’s a theme readily apparent in the acting and direction as well, to generally good effect. The glossy momentum punches up the zingers, allows for ludicrously funny moments, and catapults the action forward at a breakneck pace, though occasionally deprives the actors of much needed breathing room for genuine connection, to a point where later character revelations feel a bit…unearned.
Johnnie Torres was amazingly funny as Robert with his meaningful pauses, fidgety physical comedy, and dry, John-Lovitz-like delivery, but there were times when his character seemed imported from a snappy 1930’s radio drama. An odd fit perhaps, but extremely entertaining, and a bold choice in terms of character.
Strong choices were also made by the three actresses portraying Bernard’s international fiancées. From Lauren Scher’s brassy and boisterous Gloria, to Katie Skinner’s enthusiastic and excitable Gretchen, to Robin Mae Becar’s passionate Italian Gabriella, each actress brought a personal touch and skilful comedic timing to their role. And though these broad-stroke characters often dazzled, tenderness and depth were occasionally sacrificed for a quick laugh.
The object of their combined affection, Bernard begins the play self-satisfied and faintly aloof but must, by the end, transform into something of a mess as events spiral out of control, and Kraig Williams plays the first part to perfection. He is at his best while swaggering about his swanky flat, eyes alight as he details his master plan. And though William’s acting remains mostly consistent during the second act, his character seems more prone to occasional bouts of panic rather than the all-encompassing terror of a man struggling for sanity and survival in the heart of a romantic maelstrom.
Finally, we have Jennifer Thoreson as Berthe, who, if she doesn’t steal the show outright, at least makes off with a very large and heavy portion of it with only the vaguest intention of ever bringing it back. Armed with a surprisingly intimidating feather duster and an arsenal of grieved expressions, heavy French grumbles, and exasperated exits, Thoreson is nearly flawless in her attention to character detail and creates some of the show’s most hilarious moments using a well-timed roll of her eyes, a casually scathing glance, or a loaded, heavily-accented trap disguised as a question.
Boeing Boeing is an incredibly fun, fast-paced comedy with brightly portrayed characters to match the costumes and set. Its sitcom sensibilities may not make for terribly deep characters you’ll remember years later, but will almost certainly evoke the kind of snorting, squealing, armrest-pounding variety of laughter that friends seated nearby will gleefully store for further use as blackmail. And if that’s not reason enough to run out and buy tickets, I don’t know what is.
I got to this one a little late, but there are still three more chances!