Oh, reviewing pen, it’s been a while. Mostly because I haven’t been able to sit for the length of an entire play for a while, but also because the only play I’ve seen since Cabaret in NYC was a local production of Spamalot. But tonight, I dug my reviewing pen out and headed to Jamestown, NY to see the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown’s presentation of Marc Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing.
I’m almost sure I’ve seen this play before, but I’m not sure where – London, Edinburgh, New York, Buffalo – and other than broad strokes (a playboy trying to keep three flight-attendant-fiances in his orbit) I didn’t remember much about the plot. It falls into the strange realm of what I think of as “French living-room plays.” Like Art and Carnage. Which is weird, because neither of those are farces, and they’re both by the same playwright.
Boeing Boeing is a farce, though. It’s a farce set in the 1960s, at the dawn of newer, faster plane technology. One expects the play to have a certain “snap,” so to speak. Noel Coward with more ennui. Then one looks up the play’s running time. Two and a half hours.
There’s a line in Boeing Boeing that goes, “No panic, no problem.” But this is exactly the problem. While the actresses playing the fiances – Amanda Melquist (Gloria), Carla Kayes (Gabriella) and particularly Holly L.J. Weston (Gretchen, the passionate German) – inject their scene with dimension and energy, both male leads (Vince Liuzzo as the playboy Bernard and his older brother Carl Luizzo as Robert) seem far too comfortable, too lackadaisical. Occasionally, their back-and-forth rises to a fever pitch, but for the most part it’s the women who set the pacing for each scene – which would be fine, if not for the fact that Bernard is the protagonist. There’s a hint of this early on, when Betsy Trusel’s Berthe brings character-acted comic relief as Bernard’s frustrated domestic servant. Slick and charming, Bernard only becomes “real” in contrast to his demanding cook and cooing (but surprisingly steely) fiances. Other than occasional fluster when two of the women might interact, in which cases each Liuzzo takes their character from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye, the characters contribute to the show’s biggest problem: pacing.
Often times, I watch plays and wish the writer’s words had been given more room to breathe. In this production, I spent more time wishing someone would deliver CPR to the script. Weston had a lock on the urgency of her character’s lines, and Kayes hit all the right beats with her domineering and frustrated Italian, but more often than not, Luizzo, Luizz and Trusel seemed to linger over lines that would have benefited from a dash of Basil Fawlty.
Costumes and set, both credited to large teams in the program, were spot-on for this naturalistic play. In a moment that took me by complete surprise, Berthe actually lights a real cigarette on stage. (Some history: while I was reviewing in Edinburgh with The British Theatre Guide, laws were passed to ban smoking from the stage – even herbal cigarettes. Thinking back, I don’t recall a single time when I saw a real cigarette being smoked on stage But Berthe’s ciggy was definitely made of real tobacco.)
I wish the production left a more positive impression on me, but its by-the-book approach to a classic text paired with timing that never quite worked up to the pacing necessary to really give me a good chuckle. While much of the audience seemed entertained, laughing on cue, when the interval finally arrived I had to take the state of my back into account, and leave the second half of the show unwatched. I simply didn’t receive enough meaty enjoyment from act one to make the literal pain in my lower back worth staying for act two.
Note: Tickets were purchased for this performance.