By Joe Jennison
Amana – During the Old Creamery Theatre’s Sunday matinee curtain speech for Boeing Boeing, Producing Director Tom Milligan promised his audience “a good laugh.” As this Theatre Blog’s assigned reviewer for the show, I felt compelled to pen the promise to paper, and then sat in the Old Creamery’s darkened auditorium and waited for the promise to be delivered.
I didn’t have to wait long.
There is a scene early on concerning a bottle of cognac and three characters forced to cover up an outlandish secret. A French housekeeper, an international lady’s man and an American tourist have just realized that two of three fiancés promised to the same man are now staying in two of the four bedrooms in a Paris flat. The housekeeper assigned to manage the house, and keep the two women from running into each other, grabs the cognac to calm her nerves. She pours a glass, it’s taken immediately away by the lady’s man, she pours another glass, and it is taken away by the tourist. And then, with no more glasses within reach, she quickly guzzles directly from the bottle. The actress playing the housekeeper milks this moment for every comic bit available and as I watched this professional comedienne work her theatrical magic, I laughed and laughed and laughed. Very funny.
The play, a two-act French farce written by Marc Camoletti and translated by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans, concerns Bernard (John D. Smitherman), an American architect living in Paris who has asked three international flight attendants to marry him. Gloria (Jessica Bradish) is an American flight attendant who works for TWA. Gabriella (Deborah Kennedy) is an Italian flight attendant who works for Alitalia. And Gretchen (Jackie McCall) is a German flight attendant who works for Lufthansa.
Bernard confesses early on that he has no desire to follow through with his commitment to any of them, and works very hard to keep that secret (and the three flight attendants) from coming out and creating trouble at his Paris flat. Helping him in this endeavor are Berthe (Marquetta Senters), the aforementioned French housekeeper, and Robert (Sean McCall), an old friend from Wisconsin who just happens to be in town.
As this is a farce, we all know that all three women will indeed run into each other at the flat, and eventually Bernard’s scheme will be unraveled, but not without first some very funny theatrics as women are whisked off to the country, locked in the bathroom or hidden away in any one of several offstage rooms. Watching these performers whisk and slam and hide throughout the course of two acts is indeed funny, and all of these performers are adept at physical comedy. Director James Fleming is obviously skilled in the art of farce and slapstick, and the play’s many comic bits are mined to perfection by this professional group of performers.
The set, designed by Tom Milligan, is a colorful piece of work: pink doorways, blue walls, orange chairs, red pillows all on top of a lush, flesh-colored carpet. Six doors fit for slamming, and an offstage front door allow for perfect timing as one flight attendant arrives as another is pushed into a bedroom or bathroom or kitchen. Costumes designed by Kamille Zbanek complement Milligan’s set nicely and are tailored perfectly. The flight attendants’ uniforms in particular are well done with the American flight attendant dressed in red, the German dressed in yellow, and the Italian in green. Later, three nightgowns are equally stunning and all three flight attendants are gorgeous to look at in silks, chiffons and one wonderful little black dress, with a red belt and black pumps lined with faux fur. These are wonderful costume details that I loved to watch and discover as each scene went on. Well done.
The six actors offer six distinct characterizations; four offer up accents. Jackie McCall’s Gretchen is a tough, and, at times brutal, German woman who is a take-charge kind of lover. Bradish’s Gloria is a scheming gold-digger from Texas who admits she is ready to commit… that is, until she finds a millionaire. And Kennedy’s Gabriella is a passionate but suspicious Italian who looks gorgeous by the way in the little black dress. Senters’ Berthe is a hard-working, put-upon French housekeeper who manages to keep her employer’s secrets under wraps, for a regularly increasing raise. Sean McCall’s Robert continually nearly gives away his friend’s dirty little secret away as he very funnily juggles globes and suitcases and pratfalls. He quietly watches with envy as his friend’s three fiancés come and go and hide and resurface. And Smitherman’s Bernard is a likeable and charming international playboy.
Farces are by nature predictable, and this one is as well. The early scenes are full of exposition and the set up at times seem to drag a bit. But this farce does pay off with some wonderful laughs, comic bits pulled off by professional actors who know how to keep things funny and moving along. The play offers lots of giggles and quite a few outright belly laughs, and I loved the colorful set and costumes and the funny multicultural characters and accents.
Tom Milligan’s promise was right on target: Boeing Boeing offers a good laugh.