As soon as you take your seat for BOEING BOEING, the latest offering at Delaware Theatre Company, you know you’re in for a nostalgic treat. The set, designed by Stefanie Hansen, is like looking 50 years into the past: every detail of the 1960s apartment has that old-fashioned modern feel, from the furniture to the doorknobs. The play, a 1960 French farce translated into English by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans in the early ‘60s, takes place entirely inside of this Paris flat over the course of one crazy day.
Bernard, an architect and resident of the flat (Jason O’Connell), is visited by an old friend, Robert (Jefferey C. Hawkins). Robert is impressed with Bernard’s lovely fiancee, an American airline stewardess named Gloria (Sara M. Bruner). He soon learns that Gloria is, in fact, just one of Bernard’s three beautiful fiancees, in addition to Gabriella (Gisela Chipe) and Gretchen (Heidi-Marie Ferren), all stewardesses. Bernard boasts that his dream lifestyle is made possible by the strict flight schedules each woman is bound to — in theory, their paths will never cross. His theory doesn’t take into consideration evolving flight technology, however, and before the day is out, all three fiancees find themselves in Paris at the same time, leaving Bernard, Robert and Bernard’s loyal maid Berthe (Sarah Doherty) to put on a juggling act to keep the three women from discovering each other.
As you may expect from a 1960s farce, there is plenty of physical comedy and general randiness. Hawkins is an expert physical comic, making the somewhat awkward Robert an audience favorite. Some of the biggest laughs go to Ferren, whose melodramatic German fiancee, Gretchen, nearly steals the show when she shows up. All of the characters have their moments, though — Bruner’s feisty Texan fiancee gives a patriotic speech about a woman’s role in the US economy that could only have been written in the earliest days of the sexual revolution, and Chipe’s relatively subdued Italian fiancee is a spitfire when necessary.
O’Connell’s Bernard starts out as the relative straight man, but as things spiral out of control, he becomes a comic basket case. He and Hawkins work especially well.
The glue who holds the whole thing together is Berthe; Doherty holds the whole mess together with exasperated wit and a French accent.
Director Steve Tague offers a warning in the program: BOEING BOEING is of questionable taste, a product of its time that is admittedly sexist and jingoistic. It’s really not that bad. Every woman is a hard-working woman, and none take any guff from their man. The neat-little-package ending is a bit dated, but generally inoffensive. The out-of-date moments are part of the play’s charm, though, and part of what makes it feel like you’re taking a hilarious trip to the past.
by Marc Camoletti
Translated by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans
Directed by Steve Tague
January 23 – February 10, 2013
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE 19801