BWW Reviews: BOEING BOEING Takes Off at CLO Cabaret
Farce is almost always topsy-turvy. This is a given for the famously silly, inventive genre. But usually, the inversions and role reversals end with the final laugh, curtain down. Not so at Van Kaplan's production of BOEING BOEING. Here, even the bows provide a few final unexpected surprises: not only is the cast dancing their way through the curtain call, but the final bows go not to the leading man, nor even to his comic foil with the largest and showiest role, but to the comic relief sidekick, who has stolen the show every time she entered the stage. Expecting the unexpected: what better way to sum up the experience of watching a good door-slamming farce?
BOEING BOEING's plot is the typical stuff of sex comedy: handsome architect Bernard (Tony Bingham), an American expatriate living in swinging Paris, is instructing his Midwestern friend Robert (Connor McCanlus) in the art of polygamy. Bernard, you see, has three different fiances, all stewardesses from three different airlines, and three different countries. With the help of his beloved times-table of flight schedules, he juggles all three girls without any danger of one ever meeting the other. Of course, this being a comedy set in a room full of doors (thanks to Tony Ferrieri's elegant but slightly quirky set), plans change and all three converge on the house at once. While Bernard takes one girl after another out of the house for distraction, guileless innocent Robert, along with dour, nihilistic French cook Berthe (played with sublime understatement by Elizabeth Ruelas), must deal with a mercurial German (Lisa Ann Goldsmith), an idealistic Italian (Kelly Trumbull) and a nymphomaniac American (the hilarious Amanda Pulcini).
On paper, it sounds amusing but derivative. However, Kaplan's direction and extremely talented cast keeps the show feeling fresh and alive, even when much of its actual text and concept has long descended into sitcom cliché. The central pairing of Tony Bingham and Connor McCanlus is a masterful touch. Bingham, playing the central Lothario, is charmingly un-suave, and his Bernard has a seemingly subconscious tendency to dance awkwardly. When Bernard is on top of the game, he preens and prances his way through his seductions; when he starts to slip, he can't stop himself from leaping, contorting and throwing himself into increasingly bizarre physical attitudes. McCanlus, as Robert, is technically the funny man to Bingham's straight man, but he allows his expressive face and lanky, slightly doughy frame to provide a physical contrast to Bingham's small, compact physicality. McCanlus underplays the physical comedy of his role to allow Bingham to amplify his own. When the two men collapse, screaming and flailing, the effect of their pairing is less reminiscent of any stage duo than of the great British comedy duos of the past few decades. Fry and Laurie, Mitchell and Webb, or the Young Ones would all be proud.
The women in the show have slightly less stage time, as they are being hurtled on and shuttled off the stage like clockwork, but all of them make a good impression. Kelly Trumbull, as our Italian, is a genuine knockout, and easily the most down-to-earth character onstage. While she gets less laughs than the other girls, the heart of the play rests with her, and she treats it well. Lisa Ann Goldsmith's German is alternately sensual and terrifying as her mood swings between the two extremes, and Amanda Pulcini is a live wire as the American stewardess, seemingly unable to speak a single sentence without seducing or being seduced by someone onstage. Still, the best in show prize goes to Elizabeth Ruelas, as perhaps the only non-sexualized French maid in farce history. Perpetually smoking, perpetually complaining, and seemingly unflappable, watching Berthe come apart as she loses her composure in increasingly perilous circumstances is well worth the price of admission- and that's INCLUDING a baked brie pastry from the Cabaret menu.
Although the play zips along, Act 1 can feel a little slow, thanks to a good bit of exposition, and the show only kicks into high gear when all three stewardesses arrive on the scene at once. But from there, it's a smooth flight home, albeit with plenty of hilarious turbulence. Leaving the theatre, I had one final thought: a swanky bachelor pad inhabited by a rich and roguish playboy, his nerdy, naïve and neurotic friend, a chain-smoking and disillusioned maid named Berthe, and an ever-changing selection of beautiful women... is that BOEING BOEING, or "Two and a Half Men?" The world may never know.