by Drew Rowsome- photos by Scott Gorman and Daniel DiMarco
Expanding on the actor's aphorism, "Tragedy is easy, comedy is hard," one comes to the inevitable conclusion that farce requires superhuman abilities. Boeing Boeing is a slight, silly sex farce set in the swinging '60s. When the three flight attendants, of the Coffee, Tea or Me? variety, all converge on the apartment where the man all three believe they are engaged to, housekeeper Berthe paraphrases Bette Davis, "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night." Doors are slammed, lies are told, identities are mistaken, liberties are taken, and the whole thing is, as serial-engager Bernard describes, "perpetual motion."
For a trifle whose only desire is to titillate and entertain, Boeing Boeing has an extensive pedigree. Written by Marc Camoletti in 1960, the first English version, 1962, ran for seven years in London's West End. The 1965 film starring Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis was billed as "The Big Comedy of Nineteen-Sexty-Sex!" In 1991 it was officially listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as "the most performed French play throughout the world." And the 2008 Broadway revival was not only a popular hit, but also cleaned up critically and in collecting Tonys.
The cast of 2016's Boeing Boeing at Hart House Theatre, have to work really hard to make the perpetual motion seem effortless and effervescent. Director Cory Doran has them running up and down stairs and through doors at breakneck speed with split second timing. The three stewardesses (stewardi?) are presented as blatant stereotypes - a tough New Yorker, an overly passionate Italian, and a big-breasted Brunhilde of a German - with ridiculous accents to match. The three actresses - Eliza Martin (The Importance of Being Earnest), Katie Corbridge, and Shalyn McFaul - wear their big-hair wigs like crowns and have a blast going to the edge of going over the top. McFaul has the most outrageous fun simmering in a sexual heat backed up by some serious muscle and a bodacious bosom.
Jill McMillan as the all-wise and all-wisecracking housekeeper Berthe has impeccable timing with insouciant line readings and one-liners and eyebrows that tranchant qu'un couteau. Even though being set vaguely in the '60s, the casual racism and misogyny drags at the edges of the farce, and one of the final jokes, which no amount of underplaying or physical distraction could mute, threatens to seriously flatten the champagne. The women do get the final upper hand but it is a '60s happy ending which is disturbing in 2016 - good thing there is a curtain call set to "The Locomotion" and the giddy joy Boeing Boeing bestowed up to those moments, returns.
Bernard Gillespie is smug and funny as the would-be-Lothario and he has some double takes, and one vocal reaction as his carefully organized "international harem" falls apart, that are priceless. But the big showy role goes to Andrei Preda (The Woman in Black, The Importance of Being Earnest) who applies a very limber physicality to a multitude of pratfalls, choreographed bits and subtle touches of stage comedy. His face and vocal range are always in motion, expressing fast and furious mood changes and almost avoiding frenetic. The character's conception is a confusing one as Preda is required to be sexually naive and lust-struck one second, suave and in control the next, it is a whiplash-inducing role and some of the transitions are sacrificed in the interest of a laugh. Or out of the impossibility of playing a Jekyll and Hyde, or after Lewis' fingerprints a Nutty Professor, without having to fall back on charm. But Preda does, unquestionably, get more than his fair share of well-deserved laughs.
Even in a nerd uniform and saddled with a hilariously flattened Wisconsin accent, Preda has an odd sexual appeal that meshes nicely with the retro-hot uniforms and pink chiffon nighties donned by the trio of stewardesses. His pas de deux with McFaul is outrageously ridiculous, sort-of hot, and added suspense to the waves of laughter by presenting the very real possibility that he could be seriously injured. Unfortunately his relationship with Martin isn't written credibly and some cheap homophobic sight gags at his and Gillepsie's expense, had half the audience laughing and half wincing. Comedy is hard and farce is harder #becauseits2016.
Boeing Boeing continues until Sat, March 6 at Hart House Theatre, 7 Hart House Circle. harthouse.ca