The Rep’s ‘Boeing Boeing’: Coffee, tea or sex farce?
The dated French sex farce “Boeing Boeing” takes wing in Seattle Rep, with laughs and bumpy patches, through May 19.
Seattle Times theater critic
“Boeing Boeing” by Marc Camoletti. Through May 19 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center. $15-$80. (206-443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org)
Blame it on Boeing.
If the Washington-based company had not been turning out those snazzier, speedier new jets at the time, the Paris-based American playboy Bernard’s love life wouldn’t have been in for a crash landing.
But then there wouldn’t be “Boeing Boeing,” a garishly dated 1962 French comedy by Marc Camoletti, which in the well-traveled English translation by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans had a 2008 hit revival on Broadway. It is now closing Seattle Repertory Theatre’s 2012-13 season in a slapstick-heavy staging that can be quite funny — and, in the longer gaps between giggles, about as fresh as a 50-year old bag of cocktail peanuts.
This is a bona fide swinging-60s sex farce, mes amis, the kind with doors slamming in a game of musical bedrooms, and busty sexpot stewardesses drooled over by not only the three-timing Bernard (Richard Nguyen Sloniker) and his schleppy pal Robert (the marvelous clown, Mark Bedard), but also (to a much lesser extent) Richard’s French housemaid, Berthe (a deliciously dour Anne Allgood).
Stuffed with blatant stereotypes, rife with shtick, slim on plot, and about as silly as a noseful of Champagne bubbles, the script is certainly retro. At best, it sets in motion some very agile clowning by a suitably zany cast.
In Allison Narver’s staging for the Rep, the elaborate set (designed by the ever-ingenious Carey Wong) scores some of the biggest laughs.
Bernard’s sleek, curved, semi-automated bachelor pad would make Hugh Hefner envious. Push a button and voilà! A cocktail table-cum-aquarium arises in the sunken living room. Press other buttons: lounge-y music plays, and photos of Bernard’s beloved flip over to those of his other beloveds.
As his shocked visitor Robert learns, Bernard is leading a triple life as the fiancée of several ooh-la-la stewardesses: the ditsy American blonde Gloria (Bhama Roget), the feisty Italian brunette Gabriella (Angela DiMarco) and the bossy German redhead Gretchen (Cheyenne Casebier).
Naturally they don’t know about each other, thanks to Bernard’s time-management scheme based on their flight schedules. This precision-tooled womanizer has ’em coming and going, he crows.
After the initial shock of the setup wears off on the more sexually insecure Robert, he too gets into the swing of things — as altered flight times and sudden appearances by the women turn him into a frenzied ground traffic controller, and a Woody Allen-ish Don Juan.
The play is, well, inane enough to have been turned into a Jerry Lewis comedy (co-starring Tony Curtis). And when laughs subside, slackness sets in.
The production gains altitude with bursts of nimble physical shtick — especially in Bedard’s desperate, acrobatic maneuvers, like his hilarious bout with a heavy trunk (an old vaudeville gag that still pays dividends).
Sloniker’s rogue is so bland he’s nearly charmless. But Casebier seizes with gusto a rare chance to work her considerable comic chops. Whether slithering down a couch in ecstasy, barking orders or welcoming/repelling Robert’s advances, she’s a kick.
DiMarco contributes a spicy turn, sporting some of Frances Kenny’s sultriest costumes a la Victoria’s Secret. And Roget finds moments to make plastic-fantastic Gloria an oddball with pizazz.
If the women are sexually assertive and standard morality triumphs in the end (sort of), this is still gender dynamics in the way-back machine. That is, if you give “Boeing Boeing” a moment of serious reflection, after it lands and dissolves.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org