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Boeing Boeing by Marc Camoletti is, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the most-performed French play in history. It is a light-hearted sex comedy dating from 1960, with many adaptations and translations. The translation being used in Davidson Community Players' current production is a 2008 American edition by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans, which led to a TONY Award for best Broadway revival. Thankfully, they kept this version placed in 1960 and pretty close to the original. This was not the case for the mediocre 1965 movie starring a subdued Jerry Lewis (if you can imagine) and a "mugging, scenery-chewing and camera-swallowing" Tony Curtis, in the words of the NY Times review. Sometimes one leaves good enough alone.
As with many successful artistic works, this play follows conventions well tested through the centuries. The basic plot, and even the stage layout with numerous doors and bedrooms, can be found in baroque operas and plays from hundreds of years ago. The pleasure of the work is not the framework, but what the author and performers do with it. There is no shying away from stereotypes of gender or nationality, quite the contrary – they are the meat and potatoes of the comedy, and rather well done. It is especially apparent that the author had a certain attitude towards Germans, not unusual for his generation.
I won't spoil the thin story line for those who have not seen the play yet, but here's the setup: Bernard, an American businessman who, like Homer Simpson, seems to spend little time at the office, has three fiancées, all airline hostesses with different nationalities, schedules, and airlines. He uses his large Paris apartment for juggling his visits, with the aid of his acerbic and long-suffering German maid, Berthe. He is visited by Robert, an old classmate from The States. When the airlines start using a new Boeing airliner, the schedules shift, and all three end up at the apartment at the same time, and complications ensue.
The Davidson Community Players can put on quite a show, and this was no exception. One would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this and a professional production, and the near-capacity crowd certainly appreciated the quality.
There are six characters in the play. Bernard, the lothario at the center of the action, is played by Stuart Jonap. He is the most experienced of the cast, having some 25 years of work in professional and community theatre. He brought the right mix of amorality and affection to the role, which is quite important; we want to have some sympathy and regard for the cad, after all.
Tim Hager performs the role of Robert, the bespectacled and notably horny bachelor willing to chase after any and all bait available. Hager is a former journalist and theater critic; anyone in journalism and criticism will know that there are more formers than currents. Sic transit gloria mundi. (Please support your CVNC — one of the few such journals left!) As with all the players tonight, he was not shy about the extremes required in the part, as Jerry Lewis evidently was. Thank you for that. Some lines simply must be recited while writhing on the floor, suffering from sauerkraut gas pains. That's the price you pay for acting.
The redoubtable German maid Berthe has been taken on by Christine Hull. Poor Bernard had to put up with her attitude and complaints, as he clearly required her to keep everything in his life together. One can imagine the strains of the situation on the domestic help. Hull brought real flair to the part and stole more than a few scenes.
Now to the stewardesses: First to appear was the New Yorker, Gloria, portrayed by Christie Lee Wolf. I noted her terrific singing in the recent Davidson Community Players production of Annie; this has been a busy and productive summer for Wolf. This purely acting role gives her the opportunity to show her thespian skills, which are considerable.
Next we meet Gabriella, the Spanish firecracker played by Mariana Bracciale, in her first appearance with the Davidson Community Players. Originally from Newton, Massachusetts, she moved to North Carolina last year, and we're better off for it. She brings real spice to the role and a refreshing enthusiasm.
Finally, there is the blonde bombshell Gretchen, and as you know, Germans have a lot of experience with bombshells. She is performed by Sarah Farra, who somehow had the energy to be the mother of one- and three-year-old boys (possible training for this play, given the behavior of the two men!), as well as working as a restaurant corporate recruiter and musical theatre coach. She had plenty of energy left for this physically demanding role. While she was dolled up in a skimpy '60s-era miniskirt, one could just as easily imagine her in dominatrix leather and whip. Gretchen gets what Gretchen wants. Achtung!
The show has been ably directed by Jim Yost, going right to the edge of over-acting, which is a good tactic for a farce like this. There was one set for the duration, which worked fine, with seven doors in heavy rotation, and a window with the Eiffel Tower in the background. The vintage quality of long-ago 1960 was in evidence, with a dial phone, and people reading letters coming from across the ocean to find breaking news. Costumes for the stewardesses, designed by Ashley Bell, left little to the imagination, and certainly advertised the charms of the women to full extent. The Davidson Community Players have a lot of people volunteering to work on the set and other technical matters, and it shows.
A side note plea from the peanut gallery to other patrons: On opening night, once again I encountered one of the hazards of review duty — overpowering perfume. Please leave the heavy scents at home. Some of us have serious conditions that are adversely affected.
All in all, the show was a fun evening for adults — don't bring the kiddos. There was great work by the whole crew that was worth an evening out on the town.
Boeing Boeing continues through Sunday, July 30. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.