If you attend WaterTower Theatre’s production of “Boeing-Boeing!” watch out for the Sirens. Bewitchingly sexy babes with sultry curves everywhere, luxuriant eyelashes, come hither smiles that beckon enchantment and deep-throated voices promising heaven on earth…. Greek Homer’s hero Ulysses got The Word on the Sirens straight from snake-haired goddess Circe’s mouth. He had to sail by the Sirens’ choral seduction graveyard on his trek home from Troy. To avoid getting lured to certain destruction and death, he stuffed his men’s ears with wax to deafen them and had them bind him tightly to the ship’s mast with orders to ignore his threats, curses and pleas for release as they floated on by. It’s quite an image to contemplate. Keep it in mind if you head to Addison Theatre Centre.
Bernard, Marc Camoletti’s hero in his 1962 French bedroom farce “Boeing Boeing!”, never got that warning memo. Even though his Parisian penthouse shenanigans get overseen by his very own Cassandra-like Circe, Bertha the sullen housekeeper/cook, Bernard exclaims that “fiancées are much more friendly than wives” and engages three Sirens pour son tres naughty amusement. A suave et debonair cad du jour with serious appetite for boudoir excitement, Bernard, as portrayed by handsome Ashley Wood, exudes Michael Douglas-like charm and mastery with macho swagger and infectious grin. He even enlists his romantically inept, sartorially challenged, eager beaver, provincial friend Robert to maintain the Sirenian charade. Doomed! Three gorgeous airline hostesses, three different airlines, one petit black flight schedule book guaranteed to keep them all coming and going in synchronized, ignorant disharmony: it’s “a perpetual motion international harem” exclaims Robert in lusty, wide-eyed admiration. Ooh la-la, when the wheels come off Bernard’s 747….
Fort Worth’s Circle Theatre mounted “Boeing-Boeing!” to general acclaim in 2011, directed by Robin Armstrong and designed by Clare Floyd Devries. WaterTower Theatre remounts the production here, again with Armstrong helming and DeVries designing. All actors from the successful Circle cast return but one; the production benefits much from the open, deep playing space with unobstructed views, where comic mayhem can ratchet up farce to turbo-thrust roar on a fully-realized, multi-level set. It’s the Super-size Me version of the play with no extra calories or sugary overload. Even if you enjoyed the earlier production, you’ll appreciate the ‘flights of fancy’ employed in the remount.
Returning as the comely sirens of liberated air travel, Emily Scott Banks as operatically temperamental Italian Gabriella, Sherry Hopkins as scheming Southern belle Gloria and Morgan McClure as German Gretchen, an “intense”, jet-propelled Brunehilde of the ethereal canopy, never let up — on the men or the audience. They pursue their designated objet d’amour, Bernard, with relentless self-absorbed abandon. They toy with diminutive, smarmy Robert if and when it pleases them. They trade womanly barbs with acerbic, ill-mannered Bertha and never miss a comic beat, an arched eyebrow, curled lip or glance askance, or a carefully choreographed surprise entrance or slammed door exit, to the audience’s continued delight and amazement. And slowly but surely, they overwhelm Bernard and dash him off his smug, self-created pedestal of free love and deception. Vive les femmes!
In the Circle Theatre production, it was evident that director Armstrong had a genuine knack to foster and inspire the unique comic talent of regional actor Andy Baldwin. His earlier performance nearly stole the show (see previous review, link below); how he could top it here? In this production, Baldwin takes the character of Robert to soaring, insane comic heights, with a genius to inhabit a specific action with Robin Williams-like studied attention to detail, yet with his own easy, uncanny spontaneity. His ear for comic line delivery and the ability to mimic himself precisely and the exact intonation of other characters while executing a complex bit of physical business is a wonder to behold. He embarked upon the hilarious ‘dance of the towels’ in the Circle production; at WaterTower the dance’s scope attains a grand tier dimension, well suited to the performance space’s grander scale. At WaterTower the cast gives a stronger, balanced ensemble performance. Baldwin is simply superb, one of the finest comic talents in this region.
Regional leading actress Lulu Ward steps into the role of Bertha, Bernard’s mystifying housekeeper, with smoldering power, bringing her own sensual fire and grounded comic flair to the production. Ward’s Bertha, like Wood’s Bernard, exists in her own bizarre world. She seems to see herself as an under-appreciated, long-suffering Camille of sorts, she of the consumptive camellias. Pauvre Bertha. She keeps the risqué madhouse together for monsieur, and nobody notices, sniff, sniff. Her snide remarks and jabs almost feel like audience commentary. Open and engaging, maitresse of the double entendre and the grandstand gesture, this Bertha has a few unexpected surprises up her sleeve as well. Ward’s comic delivery matches Baldwin’s for virtuosity and spot-on timing.
The period penthouse bachelor pad set by Clare Floyd DeVries evokes 1960’s Paris with merry whimsy while keeping the actors safe through their numerous, expansive clinches and pratfalls. Director Robin Armstrong’s costume designs effectively recall the sexy, the stodgy and questionable taste elements of the era. Ashton McWhirter’s sound and Jeff Stover’s lighting design compliment the directorial concept while employing modern technical wizardry with seamless skill.
Beware the Sirens of WaterTower Theatre, but laugh your ass off watching them work their feminine wiles in “Boeing-Boeing!”. Bet your sweet bippy it’s a flight you’ll not soon forget. Fasten your seatbelt and secure your seat in an upright position for the finest farce currently on stage in the region.
WaterTower Theatre’s production of Marc Camoletti’s “Boeing-Boeing!” runs through June 17, 2012. Tickets: www.watertowertheatre.org, 972.450.6232
Photos by Mark Oristano.
Previous production review: