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Theater Review: Boeing Boeing

PC: Jack Grace
Marc Camoletti’s “Boeing Boeing” is one of those foolproof French farces, like “La Cage Aux Folles,” that has been translated into English, remade and performed numerous times to great success. Camoletti’s comedy, which first appeared in 1962, has been listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as “the most performed French play” and was even made into a 1965 Tony Curtis/Jerry Lewis film. It’s 2008 Broadway revival helped put the piece back in the spotlight and now, for the first time ever, Camoletti’s durable hit comes to Maui.

The Michael Pullium-directed production of “Boeing Boeing,” now playing at The Historic Iao Theater, is set in the age when air travel was once glamorous and chic. Bernard (played with a laid back, Robert Wagner cool by Brian Connolly) is surprised to find Robert, his childhood friend (an excellent Kalani Whitford), paying him a surprise visit. Robert quickly learns that Bernard is living on a tightly choreographed schedule that thrives on the dependency of airline time tables. It seems Bernard’s three mistresses (played by Sara Jelley, Erin McCarger and Lin McEwan in funny, boisterous turns) have no idea the other exists, a secret Bernard has been careful to contain. Robert is initially shocked and in awe of Bernard’s devil-may-care lifestyle. When a series of unscheduled events cause all three women to reappear at any given moment, both the host and his guest scramble to maintain the deception.

“Boeing Boeing” is a sharp bedroom farce and infused with a strong sense of atmosphere and fun. There’s real snap in Pullium’s direction and his ensemble works well at building the play’s steadily increasing pace and comic momentum. The multiple accents tickle the ear and there’s a real affection for the comedies of its era. At one point, Whitford pulls off a recognizable (and not easy) bit of slapstick from “The Pink Panther” and the curtain call is set to the psychedelic funk of Deee-Lite. It’s that kind of show.

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PC: Jack Grace

The set is a serious knockout. From the moment I first glanced the one-room set (credited to the Maui OnStage Production Staff and Ally Shore), all I could think was, “I wish I could live there.” From the sleek bar to the cool art to the furry bean bag chair, over to a visible bathroom and even a bedroom balcony, I was dumbstruck. Bernard’s home is shagadelic enough to fill Austin Powers with envy.

One of the greatest pleasure for movie buffs of the late 80’s was the opportunity to see the late, great John Ritter collaborate with legendary comedy filmmaker Blake Edwards. Their sole film together, “Skin Deep,” isn’t a total success but it allowed the ever-likable and remarkably limber physical comedy style of Ritter to have a great film showcase. I thought about “Skin Deep” while watching Whitford play Robert. I mean this as no small compliment: Ritter would have adored Whitford’s performance, which is a masterful exercise in physical, verbal and character-driven comedy. Whitford nails Robert from the moment he walks on stage, serves as an audience surrogate and constantly had me howling. It’s a tremendously witty performance.

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Playing Bernard’s German mistress is Lin McEwan, whose performance begins at explosive levels and maintains that giddy level of comic lunacy until her final scene. McEwan is arguably playing the broadest character and she makes her forceful, lusty piece of work. Her second act scenes with Whitford are impeccably performed and especially nutty.

Sara Jelley hits all the right notes as the Italian mistress and Jamie Wilcox is delightful as Berthe, Bernard’s prickly, had-it-up-to-here maid. Wilcox’s surprising dance with a cleaning device is a major first act highlight. Erin McCarger gives a robust turn as the randy American who, initially, appears to be Bernard’s only female companion. The eye-popping costumes by Vicki Nelson are a highlight and immerse the audience in the era as much as the show’s strong feel for its setting.

While the premise quickly picks up steam after the establishing scenes, some may be initially put off by Bernard and his casual sexism. “Boeing Boeing” itself isn’t sexist but a commentary (and even a cautionary tale) against sexism. The joy in the second act is watching Bernard’s carefully orchestrated, self-satisfied existence of pleasure and deception come crumbling down. Connolly’s slow burn, in which we witness Bernard’s what-me-worry nonchalance become a full scale panic attack, is a funny parody of the broken male ego.

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PC: Jack Grace

Fans of door-slamming sex farces, particularly the recent revival of “Noises Off!,” will eat this up. “Boeing Boeing” has visual cool to spare, sex on its mind and is very, very funny.

Boeing Boeing is now playing at The Historic Iao Theater, where is runs until October 16th. Tickets are available at mauionstage.com or by calling 808-242-6969.

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About Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II
Barry Wurst II is a senior editor & film critic at MAUIWatch. He wrote film reviews for a local Maui publication and taught film classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS). Wurst also co-hosted podcasts for Screengeeks.com and has been published in Bright Lights Film Journal and in other film-related websites. He is currently featured in the new MAUIWatch Podcast- The NERDWatch.

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