Bernard loves being engaged. In fact, he loves it so much that just one fiancée isn’t enough for him. In fact, not even two will suffice. Bernard has a swinging flat overlooking the heart of Paris and no less than three beautiful fiancées, each an air hostess from a different country. How did he choose these three lovely ladies? Simple—by figuring out their flight schedules and approaching three women who would always be in Paris at different times. And because international air travel is so dependable in the 1960s, there’s absolutely no way that could go wrong, right?
Boeing! Boeing! is a farce in the tradition of about a million comedy romps starring Rock Hudson, Doris Day, and Tony Randall in the 60s. As I watched the show, I could easily imagine which part each of them would play. In fact, the Tony Award-winning play, written originally in French by Marc Camoletti and translated into English by Beverley Cross, was adapted into a movie starring Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis. The Actors Guild of Parkersburg’s production, directed by David Rexroad, stars Ronnie Talbott as Bernard; R. J. Lowe as his seemingly clueless friend Robert, who comes to Paris just in time to see the well-oiled machine go south; Heather Hepburn as Bertha, Bernard’s exhausted maid who must constantly keep track of who’s coming and going and which national cuisine will be on the menu from day to day; Lindsay Dunn Snider as Gloria, an American hostess with TWA; Morgan Leigh Stubbe as Gabriella, an Italian hostess with Alitalia; and Brittani Hill as Gretchen, a German hostess with Lufthansa.
As is true with most farces, especially those from that free-wheeling period in history, subtlety isn’t the goal. And it’s a good thing too, because there’s nothing whatever subtle about this production. The physical comedy is huge, especially from the ever-hilarious Mr. Lowe, who really did remind me much of the time of a young Jerry Lewis. Voices are loud, accents are comically over-the-top (especially from Ms. Hill’s Gretchen and Ms. Hepburn’s Bertha), and reactions are greatly exaggerated. There are no minor crises here. It’s zero to end-of-the-world from the word go.
The show, while entertaining, is by no means perfect. It starts out a little slowly as Bernard explains the whole system to his recently arrived American friend, Robert. It definitely picks up pace just before intermission, though, as the wheels start to come off of Bernard’s finely tuned schedule. The third act is nonstop insanity, as Bertha, Bernard, and Robert try to juggle all three fiancées, whose schedules have suddenly changed for various reasons and have arrived back home simultaneously.
Another area in which the cast seemed to struggle at times was with the thick accents. It’s local theater, so folks not getting their accents perfected is to be understood and certainly to be forgiven. The problem, though, was that the accents were sometimes so thick and the dialogue so fast that they were at times unintelligible. The good news, however, is that this isn’t Eugene O’Neill and the play doesn’t hinge on the audience’s ability to understand every word. This is primarily a physical show. So, despite the fact that it drove an old theater wonk like me crazy at times, it’s not an issue unless you make it one.
So, if you’re looking for deep, thoughtful theater, then don’t see Boeing! Boeing!. If you are interested in a night of frantic, loud, raucous entertainment where you can check your brains at the door, this is the show for you. The show opens Friday, June 3 and runs until June 12 at the Actors Guild of Parkersburg.
Joe Stephens is a National Board Certified Teacher at Parkersburg High School. He was a 2005 recipient of the Milken National Educator Award. He has a bachelor’s degree from Glenville State College and a master’s from Walden University. His third novel, In the Shadow, is now available on Amazon.