In comedy, they say timing is everything, and the fleet-footed comedic farce Boeing Boeing at the Watermark Theatre revolves around a very specific timetable.
Bachelor Bernard (Warren Bain) hews to the global flight schedule like a Bible, to balance three flight-attendant fiancées who travel different routes and each consider his Parisian flat their pied-à-terre. Bouncy Gloria (Jenna Marie) flies with TWA; passionate Gabriella (Alexandra Montagnese) carries an Air Italia bag; officious Gretchen (Leah Pritchard) serves Lufthansa with ruthless efficiency. Bernard’s long-suffering maid, Berthe (Hannah Wayne-Phillips) keeps track of whose wheels are on the ground, whose photo and flag needs to be where in the flat – although she chides Bernard in high Parisian dudgeon, “It is not easy!”
Into this ménage, fresh-faced and awkward from Wisconsin, USA, stumbles Bernard’s school friend Robert (Jacob Hemphill), just in time for his presence, changes in weather, and the introduction of faster Boeing aircraft to the fleets conspire to throw the timetable into chaos and to land all three women into Paris, and Bernard’s apartment, at the same time. While Bernard’s timetable falls apart, the actors in this production, choreographed as much as directed by Robert Tsonos, do not miss a beat.
While Bernard maintains a revolving door of fiancées, the Watermark small stage handles six regular hinged doors, in a terrific, sophisticated chi-chi set designed by William Layton, its sumptuous colour scheme brought out by subtle lighting design by Renée Brode, and echoed in costumes by Julia Hodgson-Surich that manage to be at once flattering, appropriate to the time setting, functional, and hilarious. Her attention to texture is again a bonus in the intimacy of the Watermark.
The play by Mark Camoletti is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the French play with the most performances around the world, and it is clearly a crowd pleaser. While Prince Edward Island audiences often exude warm feeling, we are often undemonstrative, but by Leah Pritchard’s appearance as Gretchen – a stunning vision in head-to-toe yellow ochre – the opening-night audience was building to guffaws. Pritchard’s performance is the first to dazzle – she really is a comedic wonder – but Montagnese gets an equal moment of flash in the final act, and the forward Jenna Marie gets to “expose” her talents as well towards the dénouement. Bain, Hemphill, and Wayne-Phillips earn a sheen of sweat with intensely physical (at moments frenzied) performance. Wayne-Phillips’ attitude of cool, Hemphill’s animated face and twitchy presence (think Crispin Glover as Marty McFly) are only part of his obvious gift for physical comedy, while Bain in a straight-man role conveys his character as appropriately louche.
While global travel, gender roles, and sexual mores may have changed (or not) since the early 1960s, the dated script, centred on exploited women who represent broad and cringe-worthy cultural stereotypes, turns out to be a great vehicle for women actors to give stand-out lead performances, with each getting at least one scene-stealing moment and most getting to chew up the furniture enough that I suggest inspecting the set’s pristine white chaises for bite marks before the end of the run.
Boeing Boeing is well worth including in a tight timetable, for a scandalous summer night of Parisian plaisir.