There’s no such thing as a medium-quality farce. Unless doors slam smoothly, lines fly by and madness accelerates, the illusion dies. A partly successful farce is as unappetizing as a partly collapsed soufflé.
I’d never seen Carolina Actors Studio Theatre attempt one, and I wondered how “Boeing-Boeing” could work in such a small space. But designer James Burns Jr. and director Tony Wright solve all problems with a set that’s a maze of exits and a pace that begins in a lull and ends in lunacy.
You know you’re in good hands early on, when French playboy Bernard and Berthe, his long-suffering Parisian housekeeper, fire French back and forth. We don’t know exactly what’s being said, but we settle comfortably into a world where we’re going to be a little off-balance all the time. (It helps that Emmanuel Barbe really is French, and Polly Adkins taught it for years.)
Bernard is “engaged” to three stewardesses. (It’s the 1960s; that’s what they’re called.) Strong-willed New Yorker Gloria (Mandy Kendall), fiery-tempered Italian Gabriella (Katie Bearden) and good-natured German Gretchen (Karina Roberts-Caporino) fly in and out of his life.
As Bernard explains to Robert, a friend from Wisconsin who drops in unannounced, happiness lies in efficiency: As long as they never meet, his life consists of uninterrupted, diverse pleasures. But when the women’s paths come close to crossing, and Robert (Joe Rux) frantically creates alibis for his friend, chaos ensues.
Rux has never worked at CAST, and he’s the play’s secret weapon: He stands in for the viewer, first aghast at Bernard’s callousness and then appreciative of the possibilities. He literally never turns a hair as he giggles and wriggles his way out of dilemmas. Mark Rylance won a Tony in this role for the 2008 Broadway revival; in the right hands, it’s hilarious, and Rux has a firm grip on it.
Nobody can quite fix author Marc Camoletti’s structural problems in Act 2. The behavior when two of the women finally do meet doesn’t make sense, no matter how much the men gabble explanations.
On this small a set – probably on any set – it’s impossible to believe one woman changing clothes in a bedroom wouldn’t hear another hollering at Bernard in the living room. But Wright and his cast give so much pleasure that we can overlook gaps in logic.
Farces seldom have any serious points to make. Yet it’s interesting that “Boeing-Boeing” and the weighty drama “The Other Place,” which CAST is running in the adjacent theater, are both about characters who try desperately to exert control over their own lives and fail.
In one play, a protagonist is undone by vanity and lechery; in the other, by disease. One play ends in giddy laughter; the other delves into grim pain. Yet both prove that humans who insist they’re in charge of their own destinies are far wrong.
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