by Hugh Hunter
Directed by Paul Muscarella, Old Academy Players in East Falls is currently running “Boeing, Boeing” (1960) by French playwright Marc Camoletti (translated by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans). It is a comedy about the adventures of Bernard, an architect who juggles love affairs with three separate fiancées.
All three women are “air hostesses” who work out of Orly airport in Paris where Bernard has an inside man who helps him identify lonely women. Bernard especially likes his air hostess quarry because these women have already been “sifted” by their employers for sexual allure.
Handily, they also come equipped with work schedules that take them out of the country for long stretches of time. Bernard (Chuck Mueller) smugly describes to Robert (Norman Burnosky), his college friend from Wisconsin, how he manages to keep them apart.
He tells wide-eyed Robert that it is all about mathematics and organization. To execute his plan, Bernard makes use of Berthe (Jessica McDonald), his sourpuss French maid who dutifully changes apartment décor and menus to suit the tastes of his conquests. Berthe’s comic presence does a lot to save the play.
Even as you meet Bernard’s women, you see those six doors in his apartment and look forward to when traditional morality will burst in to give this caddish roué his comeuppance. The play was a huge success in Paris and London in the ‘60’s. It flopped on Broadway in 1965, then surprised critics with a Tony award revival in 2008.
“Boeing” is an example of Europe’s ethnic, post-war humor like the British sitcom ‘Allo, ‘Allo, for example. Italian Gabriella (Kimberly Shrack) has animal vitality. German Gretchen (Laura Seeley) says “I love you” like an army commandant while American Gloria (Marisa Block) is business-like.
In this English version Gloria is the only air hostess without a tell-tale, caricature accent which makes the comic role harder to play. The production also seems to follow the Broadway show in changing Bernard into an American. But curiously, the script still calls for Gloria to explain to Bernard what American girls are really like.
Bernard’s apartment does not feel especially like a 1960’s swingers pad (that lava lamp notwithstanding). On the other hand, musical effects (Terri Bateman) are more period, as are the costumes (Jane Jennings), where all the fiancées look vaguely like Audrey Hepburn (and look nice in their nighties, too).
This mix of signals suggests Director Muscarella and his production team may feel uneasy about the play. Is “Boeing” a period piece that also has universal value or just a dated expression of transitory public tastes?
“Boeing” touches on changing sexual mores in the 1960’s and also reflects Europe’s post-war neediness. But it seldom surprises you. It piles well-used nationality gags on top of the already formulaic demands of farce comedy. In one form or another, you have seen it all before.
Old Academy Players is located at 3540-44 Indian Queen Lane. “Boeing, Boeing” will run through May 11. Reservations are available at 215-843-1109 or www.oldacademyplayers.org.