Thursday 31 January 2013

Boeing-Boeing will bing-bong your funny bone

"Cute!" was my wife's enthusiastic chirp at the end of Act I of ACT's Boeing-Boeing that opened Wednesday night and runs through February 24th at the Stanley. And *cute* is what renders a 50-year-old French script translation built on rabid gender and cultural stereotyping something to laugh at robustly in 2013 without apology.

The conceit of the play a simple. Playboy architect Bernard (Jonathon Young) lives and lusts in Paris in a lavish glass-walled apartment in the 60's. Thanks to his dour and ironic Gallic housekeeper Berthe (Nicola Lipman), he is able to shuttle three stewardess "fiances" in and out of his elegant trysting pad unaware of each other. One is Gloria, an American (Kimberley Sustad), the second is Gabriella, an Italian (Moya O'Connell), and the third is Gretchen, a German (Colleen Wheeler). Meanwhile Bernard has a firm grip on an international flight schedule catalogue. Aided and abetted by Berthe's ethnic meal preps and bedroom prop changes, the stews each pop back "home" for nuzzles and snuggery for a day or two at a time.

Soon, however, come faster planes that giddy-up the women's trips, and the comic possibilities for mischance and hilarity at Bernard's polygamous love nest increase exponentially. And do. Particularly when a surprise visit from Bernard's aw-shucksy Wisconsin pal from university daze, Robert (Andrew McNee), becomes an *intervention*.

Why the ACT production of Boeing-Boeing soars into the ether with laughter in 2013 despite it being 100% politically incorrect is a function of two ace decisions by Director David Mackay : (1) excellent actors hand-picked for their roles, and (2) the stage direction, blocking, and funny business he guided them to create.

In every case the performers take the interpretation of script and role to evermore risible heights of overstatement, exaggeration and raw stereotype -- cultural as well as gender -- through endless schticks of physical comedy. The result is as much satire and parody of 60's life as it is the just plain fun of farce and slapstick. You see Chaplin, Three Stooges, Keystone Kops, and John Cleese at every trip and flop on the Stanley stage. And while the panic attack sequences were a bit on the much-ness side of the ledger, in all the madcap nonsense was rumbustious chaos tightly mapped.

Dialogue? No, more like bursts of shouts, screams and hyperbole almost always at high decibel values, except for Berthe's witty but low-key jibes and japes. The chemistry between the actors is less verbal than kinetic, in no way visceral and cerebral the way Oscar Wilde's scripts are. The fun-filled suspense in the play stems from its dramatic irony : the audience knows who's behind which door, but when the door will suddenly burst open or slam shut keeps everyone gleefully edgy. As Mackay notes : "Part of the audience-character relationship in a farce is that there should be a general feeling of panic and hysteria building towards a grand and accelerated climax. No one is particularly real or believable, but it is ultimately very funny." Said he, done he.

Amir Ofek's set design is a full-stage 3-tier living room with eggshell walls, wainscoting and crown moldings featuring 7 doors and an archway that are exploited to the hilt.  E.g. Berthe's sneek-a-peek look through the round cook-kitchen glass at randy ol' Robert was a perfect live theatre bit. 

In the end I would say Andrew McNee stole the show. As Bernard's foil and traffic cop, his efforts to keep the stews from stumbling across one another exceeded what the script called for I have no doubt. His facial contortions, eye-pops and squeaky laugh had me sniggering throughout -- from his oafish arrival to his tongue-dancing with Gloria to his final cheek-to-cheek with Bernard right at play's end. (The fake sodomy bit Mackay decided on between Robert and Bernard grabbed laughs, okay, but maybe was a bit too cute and superfluous.)

As long-suffering Berthe (pronounced "Bairt"), Nicola Lipman was simply superb. When she exclaimed to Robert "A beast is even less than a maid, that's why it's good I'm an optimist!" I could barely see through the tears to write the line down. N.B. I would happily see the play again just for that extended scene between them, but quite frankly for each of their individual and joint scenes, one by one, throughout. 

Jonathon Young had the best and most consistent gesticulations : his hand action constantly buttoning and unbuttoning his suit jacket as he collapsed on the chesterfield or flew into the room was stuff directors can't teach, actors have to have it, as well as his incessant waving and shooing of the "fiances" into one room or another or out the front door trying to save his sorry butt.

From the straight film of '65 starring Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis, this ACT production takes that low-brow nudge-nudge-wink-wink version to a high comedy stratosphere of idiocy today that is spot on. Stop fretting the economy, climate change, and the Dix/Clark pre-election charade underway. Go see this. Laugh, laugh, laugh and then go have a pee.

Boeing-Boeing was written by the late comic French playwright Marc Camoletti and is the most performed French play in the world. Translated from the French by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans. Directed by David Mackay. Set by Amir Ofek. Costumes -- perfect pastels for the stews and perfectly boring suits for the guys, as it should be -- by Nancy Bryant. Lighting by Gerald King.


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