BWW Reviews: No Rules Theatre Company's BOEING BOEING is a First-Class Production
Three airlines, one boyfriend, three girlfriends and the one night they're all in Paris together. What could possibly go wrong? Well fasten your seat beats and stow your tray-tables because No Rules Theatre Company's revival of Boeing Boeing is a non-stop riotous romp filled with first-class performances.
Marc Camoletti's play takes place in the chic sixties Parisian apartment of playboy-businessman Bernard (Nick Kowalczyk). As the play takes off, Bernard is unexpectedly visited by Robert (Jamie Smithson), his friend from Wisconsin. Robert, ever the country simpleton, is astounded to learn that in addition to Bernard's swanky apartment he's also engaged to three attractive air hostesses. There's the American Gloria (Sherry Berg) with TWA, Italian Gabriella (Jenna Berk) with Alitalia and German Gretchen (Sarah Olmsted Thomas) with Lufthansa. Helping to keep Bernard's three lives from colliding is his cantankerous French maid Berte (Helen Hedman).
When questioned how the setup could possibly work, Bernard explains "It all boils down to juggling timetables and a reliable maid who never forgets to change the photographs." Suddenly the timetables and Bernard's world come crashing down when a series of events strands all three women in Paris on the same night!
Smithson looks like he's having the time of his life in Boeing Boeing and the audience is having the time of theirs watching him. He has filled Robert with nervous ticks and quirks which explode at the most inopportune moments to great effect. Much of Smithson's mannerisms seem to have been inspired by Jerry Lewis, who played Robert in Boeing Boeing's 1965 film version. With every awkward moment Smithson has Robert contort his face in an anxiety-ridden, Lewis-esq manner. His performance is simply incredible.
Partnering with Smithson's Robert, and hoping to bring some order to the household, is Hedman's scene-stealing Berte. The role is challenging because it's filled with clichés, an issue we'll see again with Bernard's girlfriends. Berte makes the same observations repeatedly and the notion of a testy Frenchman (or woman) isn't original. Hedman doesn't let that stop her. With a deadpanned look from Hedman's sharp eyes or a complaint from her tart tongue, she's able to dryly deliver some of the evening's best zingers.
As Bernard's girlfriends, Berg, Berk and Thomas make the most of what are otherwise one-dimensional characters. The fault lies solely with Camoletti who uses well-worn stereotypes to infuse their personalities. Gloria is the pushy American, Gabriella the loud and dramatic Italian, and Gretchen the domineering German. While these aren't the most original nationality-personality combinations, that doesn't stop Berg, Berk and Thomas from giving hilarious performances. Berk in particular is phenomenal as Gabriella. Her performance perfectly matches Gabriella's personality and nationality without becoming overbearing or a carbon-copy of an Italian soap opera character.
Kowalczyk is charming as Bernard. His wavy blonde hair and wide smile make him perfect for the role of an international playboy. He's at his best when Bernard is cracking under the pressure of having three girlfriends under one roof and struggling to keep them apart.
Director Matt Cowart deserves immense credit for the success of this production which is expertly timed, an important element needed for Boeing Boeing to succeed. All of the action revolves around the living room and doors in Bernard's apartment. One ill-timed entrance/exit could ruin the show. Additionally, Cowart's direction of having the cast give bold physical performances adds to the play's energy.
Those who saw Boeing Boeing's 2008 Broadway Revival will see a similar costume and set design with this production. Chelsey Schuller has recreated the fashionable air hostess uniforms of TWA, Alitalia and Lufthansa. Their colors not only help Bernard keep his love-interests straight, they also add some vibrancy to this production. Her biggest triumph is with Robert's costume which screams Wisconsin country-bumpkin. Robert's arrival, complete with ill-fitting linen pants and discolored leather shoes earns some of the evening's biggest laughs.
John Bowhers' scenic design features Bernad's living room with a series of six doors, two on the left side, one in the middle and three on the right. The design is ideal for Boeing Boeing's frantic pace. The midcentury furniture creates the apartment's mod and trendy feel. Sierra Banack's exquisite prop design adds the finishing touches to Bowher's set. My favorite item was the vintage copy of Match Magazine on the coffee table which fittingly featured a cover story on the "new" Concord Jet!
One of the unexpected surprises of this production is its theatrical setting in Signature Theatre's Ark Theatre. The intimate space makes the audience feel that we're actually in Bernard's living room watching the action around us. It's a nice aspect which makes Boeing Boeing all the more endearing.
Airlines are known for causing headaches and inducing anything but laughter. No Rules Theatre Company's revival of Boeing Boeing is the exception. This non-stop madcap romp is filled with hilarious comedic performances and is an excellent evening for anyone looking for a good time without having to check baggage.
No Rules Theatre Company's revival of Boeing Boeing is scheduled to run thru June 29th and is currently in residence at Signature Theatre 4200 Campbell Ave, Arlington, VA. For ticket information please click here.
Photo: Nick Kowalczyk, Jenna Berk and Jamie Smithson in No Rules Theatre Company's Boeing Boeing. Credit: Chris Maddaloni.