Arts & Culture

Fiancees wreak havoc in comic revival

Staff Writer
Monday, April 23, 2012


How many fiancees can you juggle at once? In “Boeing-Boeing,” Trinity Repertory Company’s hysterical new spring comedy, a Parisian playboy attempts to juggle three ­- with predictably farcical results.

The show, by French playwright Marc Camoletti, is set in the 1960s. Bernard (Joe Wilson Jr.) is a wealthy, self-enamored American architect living in Paris. He has devised what he thinks is a brilliant system – by carefully keeping track of flight schedules, he manages to get himself engaged to three different air stewardesses at once. Each woman has no idea the others exist, as whenever one is home with Bernard, the other two are up in the air.

“Boeing-Boeing” was unpopular when it first opened in 1965, but it was brought back to Broadway in 2008 with a Tony Award-winning revival. Trinity Rep director Fred Sullivan Jr. said he had seen it in New York and decided it would be perfect for the company. “It’s perfect for the community, it’s perfect for spring and it’s perfect for the performers,” he said.

Between visits from his fiancees, Bernard’s surly French housekeeper, Bertha (Nance Williamson), rearranges the apartment to suit the woman arriving next, swapping out flowers and photographs. She also prepares different meals so that the three fiancees ­- an American, an Italian and a German – each find the food to their liking.

As Bernard explains to his visiting high school pal, Robert (Stephen Thorne), his system is “so precise as to be almost poetic.”

Unfortunately for Bernard, a series of coincidences and the invention of a speedier plane conspire to make his juggling act more difficult. The play kicks into higher gear as his fiancees come and go faster and faster. Bernard, with the help of Robert, tries desperately to keep his game from being discovered, but Bertha becomes increasingly uncooperative, and soon he finds himself having to deal with more than just one fiancee in his apartment simultaneously. Things get ever more ridiculous from there.

The stewardesses, though little more than stereotypes of their nationalities, are outrageously funny. Gloria (Rebecca Gibel MFA’10) is a sultry, vivacious New Yorker with a penchant for pet names such as “lava-lips” and “banana-boat.” Gretchen (Amanda Dolan GS) is a domineering German subject to extreme fits of passion, while Gabriella (Liz Morgan GS) is an impatient Italian who at least twice in the play threatens to hit another character with her high-heels. The three excellent actresses are all part of the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA Program.

The audience favorite appeared to be Williamson as Bertha, whose regular sarcastic quips proved irresistible. Thorne’s naive, folksy Robert – “I come from Wisconsin,” he explains ­­- is also immensely entertaining as the play’s fish out of water.

Sullivan’s production is a vibrant, colorful affair. Each stewardess is matched with a different primary color. Gretchen, for example, works for Lufthansa, so her uniform is bright yellow. When she comes to stay at Bernard’s apartment, which is otherwise mostly white, Bertha swaps out the red flowers for yellow ones and does the same with the red pillow on the couch. Once Gretchen leaves, Bertha likewise switches everything to blue for the arriving Gabriella. It is a clever trick that helps the audience keep track of who’s coming and who’s going.

This is more helpful than it might sound, as there is a lot of coming and going. The set represents Bernard’s living room but has no fewer than seven doors upstage. As things get more hectic, Bernard is forced to hide his fiancees in different rooms, and the play grows hysterically similar to a game of whack-a-mole. The kitchen door is also on a swinging hinge, which allows Bertha to pop out and deliver her scathing punchlines every now and again, like a sardonic cuckoo clock.

Sullivan called the play “a really fun offering targeted at the funny bone.” Indeed, while a straightforward and unsurprising comedy, “Boeing-Boeing” is sure to keep you laughing from start to finish. 

The play runs until May 13 at the Trinity Repertory Theater. As Robert says, quite rightly, “It’s nothing like Wisconsin, but it sure is exciting.” 

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