Boeing-Boeing, Lost in Time
|January 15, 2013||Posted by Scott Robertson under Staff Reviews|
Scott Robertson is a writer for Hitting The Stage. He has appeared as an actor on many of Hawai‘i’s stages.
It’s 1962, over 50 years ago, and for some reason you think to yourself “Let’s write a French sex farce but set it in modern times with a swinging bachelor and three airline hostesses.” Everybody thinks that’s a great idea, I guess, and so you write Boeing-Boeing. After all, it’s the jet age! Playboys are funny. Nutty girls who wear short skirts and really just want to get married are funny. Drinking is funny. Men staring longingly at butts and boobs is funny. And of course sex with everyone is funny. I’m probably the wrong person to review this show because I keep asking myself if these things, in the absence of anything else, are really all that funny anymore. I hate to be a wet blanket but in the meantime we’ve seen the women’s movement and AIDS, among other things, and I can’t help but think there are deeper things to think about, and more interesting things to laugh about now than there were in 1962.
Swinger Bernard (Mathias Maas) is juggling three women, all of whom he is engaged to marry. This works because they are airline hostesses and come through Paris, where he lives, at different times. His old school chum Robert (Ken Roberts) arrives for a visit just before some bad weather and schedule changes – you guessed it – conspire to bring everyone together at the same time. Luckily, Bernard’s pad has seven doors, all of which start swinging as much as he does as fiancées barely miss each other and men improv-lie on the spot about why one room is off limits or another is exactly the right place to go. The maid tries to help them. That’s about it as far as the plot goes.
This show was revived on Broadway in 2008, toured the U.S. in 2009, and won a lot of awards, so maybe that is why MVT decided to give it a whirl. But I have to ask why. Bernard says that he is “the perfect example of polygamous nepotism,” and gives us his insight on love by saying he loves his multiple fiancées so much that “if one asks for something I buy it for all three.” On the other hand, he also explains that fiancées are much better than wives, among other reasons, because they “cost less.” Robert has apparently never kissed a woman, but once he gets started it is a beeline to marriage. One of the girls (I guess I should call them that), after a boyfriend makes a million dollars, says that she will resign her job because “Marriage is what I want.” Am I the only one who finds these things beyond cliché? On top of all that, add in a fart joke and a barf joke, make the French one a tart, the German one a dominatrix, and the American one a southern belle, and you’ve got, um, what exactly?
That said, I found the performances quite good. As an actor (probably ex-actor after this review) I would barf and fart with the best of them if that’s what the director wanted, and so they did. My favorite performances were turned in by Ken Roberts as Robert, the visitor who gets caught up in all the mayhem, and Shannon Winpenny as Bertha, the maid. Roberts has excellent comic timing and expression and his woebegone character is a riot. He bounces off of the furniture, the doors, and the airline hostesses to hilarious effect. Winpenny plays the maid as slightly acerbic and a less than enthusiastic enabler of her employer’s nonsense. Judging from the applause, I think the audience shared my enthusiasm for these players.
The airline hostesses, Dusty Behner as TWA hostess Janet, Mackenzie Jahnke as Lufthansa hostess Judith, and Therese Olival as Air France hostess Jacqueline, were interesting in their roles. I think they could have all been played as ditsy and coy, and I’ll bet they were written that way, but in each case the choice was quite the opposite. In their own unique, though stereotypical ways they played strong characters who completely overwhelmed the men. I can’t really pick a favorite, but in the spirit of the show I will say that the TWA hostess had the most awesome short uniform and red high heels, but if you’re into getting thrown around and climbed on you should fly Lufthansa.
I’ve seen stage veteran Mathias Maas in roles that suited him better, but he was quite effective as a confident playboy who initially has everything under control but who is brought to confusion when his carefully choreographed scheme unravels. In all fairness to Maas, his character’s arc starts with bragging about his “harem,” winds through wild door slamming, and ends with a default marriage to the leftover one, if he can remember whether she is behind door number one or door number two. Not a lot to work with, but it is the most complex character story in the show.
Needless to say, the play has a happy ending that wraps everything up just fine, e.g. (spoiler alert) all the girls can quit their jobs and get married one way or another, the men are headed for marriages they don’t want or understand but can maybe drink their way through, and the maid can keep her job which she is happy about because now it will be simpler. All of which brings me back around to complaining about the play itself (as opposed to the production). Why modern playwrights want to attempt a redo of La Ronde or Les Liaisons Dangereuses is beyond me, but at least those plays had a point. La Ronde explored sexual mores and class in Vienna in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Les Liaisons Dangereuses explored sex, cruelty and power in 18th century France. In other words, the sex part and all the running around was in service of a story about something deeper. These plays endure (HPU did a fine production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 2011) because the characters have some depth, there are consequences, and we learn about the society at the time and can perhaps apply it to our own time – oh, and of course because of the great period costumes. Maybe people will be staging Boeing-Boeing in 2162, but I doubt it because what’s to learn? It’s about sex and, well, airplanes I guess, but is this a timeless theme? Let’s face it, the play is seriously dated. Maybe people will see the sex roles as informative about the period, but in the end it all comes to nothing. It was cool in the early 1960s because of the jet age and the sexual revolution (for men), but except for the equally fun costumes (for women), it is ho-hum beyond that. MVT can do and has done better with comedy (Dixie Swim Club and Dividing the Estate come to mind as good contrasts).
Still it is worth mentioning that the audience laughed their heads off. The guy across the aisle from me could barely contain himself and kept looking around at everyone in a “can you believe how funny that is?” sort of way. A lady behind me giggled to her companion, “Look, she’s drinking.” I laughed too. It’s like watching a TV sitcom. The actors and director (Elitei Tatafu, Jr) did what they could with the material. The set (James Davenport and Jennifer Eccles) and costumes (Dusty Behner) are inspired, playfully invoking jets even though the whole play takes place in a Paris apartment. The curtain call was enjoyable, giving us a little 1960s vibe. With all of these fine people involved, just imagine what an experience it could have been if they were doing a comedy that had a point.
Boeing-Boeing is playing at Manoa Valley Theatre through January 27th. Manoa Valley Theatre is located at 2833 East Manoa Road. Their website is http://www.manoavalleytheatre.