Theatre review: Boeing-Boeing is one flight you don’t want to miss

Unlike the new 787 Dreamliner, there is no grounding the Arts Club’s Boeing-Boeing, a hilarious production that rarely flies below 30,000 feet.

The lothario Bernard thinks he has found the perfect solution for his refusal to commit: juggle three airline hostesses from three different airlines.  There is the gold-digger Gloria from TWA, the vivacious Gabriella from Alitalia and the blonde powerhouse Gretchen from Lufthansa, who all believe they are the only woman in Bernard’s life.  With the voluminous world-wide airline schedule as his guide (the action takes place in the 1960s long before the advent of computers and the internet), Bernard tracks the comings and goings of the trio in his little black book.

Managing to keep the three apart for months because of their disparate schedules, a perfect storm (one quite literally) is brewing that sees the three of them land in Bernard’s Paris apartment at the same time.  With his best friend Robert visiting from Wisconsin, the two men orchestrate a game of cat-and-mouse in a futile effort to keep them separated.  With the help of Bernard’s long-suffering maid and many slamming doors, the three women are kept apart just long enough to ensure it all works out in the end.

Despite having been written over a half-century ago, Boeing-Boeing is a surprisingly timeless farce despite its treatment of the women as little more than sex objects.  Much of the production’s success coming from the deft direction of David Mackay who ensures the production soars through its 2 1/2 hours.  A definite director’s play given there are few explicit stage directions provided in the script, Mackay not only gets some amazing comic performances from his actors, but keeps them in a constant state of perpetual motion.  Reminiscent of the classic Dick Van Dyke Show that was around at the same time, the physical comedy is at times as funny as the circumstances the characters find themselves in.

Jonathan Young and Andrew McNee provide a hilarious contrast as the two men in the play.  While Young is wiry, nervous and strung-out as Bernard, McNee provides a perfect counterbalance as best friend Robert.  There is something perfectly droll about McNee’s portrayal that instantly draws us to him and despite his own part in the ruse he is positively sympathetic.  Individually they handle the physical comedy with aplomb, but it is when they are together that it is simply dazzling to watch.

The three air hostesses (Moya O’Connell, Kimberley Sustad and Colleen Wheeler) take their caricatures and manage to give them some reality amongst the farce.  Wheeler is particularly good here as the German Gretchen, whose first entrance is such a whirlwind of hilarity that it deservedly brought down the house.

Not to be left out though is the incomparable Nicola Lipman who plays the maid Berthe.  Her diminutive stature in large framed glasses and a traditional French maid’s outfit is a perfect canvas for this dour woman who not-so-silently endures her employer’s shenanigans.

Colleen Wheeler and Nicola Lipman in the Arts Club Theatre Company production of Boeing-Boeing. Photo by David Cooper.
Colleen Wheeler and Nicola Lipman in the Arts Club production of Boeing-Boeing. Photo by David Cooper.

Nancy Bryant’s wonderful period costumes, that include the colourful uniforms of the three women, literally pop against Amir Ofek’s beautifully modern Paris apartment of the 1960s and Gerald King’s stark lighting design.

Boeing-Boeing may have originally run for 19 years in France, but this Arts Club production is only around until February 24.  Get your boarding pass soon because this is one flight you won’t want to miss.

4 1/2 of 5 StarsBoeing-Boeing

By Marc Camoletti.  Translated by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans.  Directed by David Mackay.  An Arts Club Theatre Company production.  On stage at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage through February 24, 2013.  Visit http://artsclub.com for tickets and information.

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