CEDAR CITY — Only a Frenchman could write Boeing Boeing. And only the Utah Shakespeare Festival could create a production that is so clever and enjoyable.
Set in Paris in the early 1960’s, Boeing Boeing is a farce in the great French tradition of Molière. Written by Marc Camoletti and translated by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans, the play tells the story about Bernard (played by Grant Goodman), who has three fiancées, all of whom are flight attendants for three different international airlines. Due to their differing flight schedules, Bernard is able to keep the three women from meeting each other. However when their airlines purchase a new, faster airplane, Bernard’s carefully planned schedule is upset, and chaos ensues.
The center of Boeing Boeing, though, is not Bernard, but rather his friend visiting from Wisconsin, Robert. Quinn Mattfeld has shown himself to be a comedic genius in many other Utah Shakespeare Festival productions, and his performance in Boeing Boeing does not disappoint. Mattfeld conveys Robert’s bewilderment as the small town boy encounters a big city and new ways of life effectively in the first act. But as he helps Bernard avoid disaster, Robert becomes increasingly desperate and frantic. Mattfeld gave Robert a frenetic energy that increased as the difficulties that Robert faced grew. Mattfeld was also exquisite at making Robert’s slips of the tongue and stumbles over the set seem fresh and authentic. Finally, Mattfeld deserves praise for his mastery of physical comedy, and often the show halted because the loud audience laughter lasted too long.
As Bernard’s German girlfriend, Gretchen, Nell Geisslinger was a 20th century Valkyrie warrior. Her forwardness added to the humor of the bizarre situation, such as when she aggressively kisses Robert or when she sternly demands to know where Bernard is. The contrast of Gretchen with the more timid Robert contributed to the farcical nature of the show. Sara J. Griffin played the American girlfriend, Gloria. The savvy Gloria was a joy to watch as she confidently explained her career and life plans to Robert. In contrast, Maryanne Towne played Bernard’s weary, worn down French maid, Berthe. Her resentment towards the smug American Bernard and the busy pace that she had to work to maintain the apartment for three separate women were clearly shown in Towne’s performance. A surprising amount of comic relief was found in Towne’s demeanor as she cooly reacted to the chaos around her, and it seemed that Berthe knew that these events would occur one day.
Although the entire Boeing Boeing cast was talented, the masterful direction from Christoper Liam Moore made this production relentlessly funny. Moore added so much physical humor to the show (especially with a very odd spherical chair) that the play rose to the level of hilarity of classic Hollywood comedies like Airplane!. The madcap high jinks of Boeing Boeing rarely ceased, and Moore created a special type of silliness that never seemed juvenile. Moore also ensured that each of the flight attendants had their own unique type of sexiness, which made it easier to believe that Bernard would fall in love with each one. Thanks to this directorial choice, the entire play had a thin layer of sex appeal.
Contributing to the success of this production is the set design by Jo Winiarski, which solely consisted of Bernard’s apartment. Winiarski (back from an absence this summer during which she was sorely missed) created an apartment with many curved features (such as walls and a downstage ramp), which subtly reflected Bernard’s interest in attractive women. Benjamin Hohman‘s props complemented Winiarski’s set nicely and accentuated the 1960’s setting of the play. Rachel Laritz‘s costumes for the flight attendants were “. . . dazzling, irresistible,” in the words were Bernard (and he’s right).
I have given positive reviews to many Equity productions in the past. What makes Boeing Boeing special is that it is one of the extraordinary few productions I have reviewed for UTBA that could have a successful open-ended run on Broadway if it were transferred to New York City. But this terrific show is available in Utahns’ backyards at a fraction of New York prices. Readers should catch Boeing Boeing before it flies away.