By Marc Camoletti. Translated by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans. An Arts Club Theatre Company production. At the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage on Wednesday, January 30. Continues until February 24
It’s been a little over 50 years since Marc Camoletti wrote Boeing-Boeing, a French farce about sex and relationships. One might expect that the production, with its racy (for the ’60s) themes and door-slamming high jinks, had lost a little throttle along the way. But by intermission, ribs already aching from laughter and the audience absolutely buzzing, it was evident that the Arts Club had an instant hit on its hands.
And to think, the show almost didn’t go on. Not five minutes before the curtain was set to rise, the company’s publicist came to privately inform reviewers that the show’s lead, Andrew McNee, had norovirus and had been unable to leave the bathroom since the matinee ended four hours earlier, and that they were considering cancelling the performance.
Instead, McNee went on and, save for looking a little peaked, let no one be the wiser. As Robert, who comes to Paris to see his old pal Bernard (Jonathon Young) only to get tangled up in Bernard’s complicated love life (he’s engaged to three stewardesses, though none know about the others), McNee gamely takes pillows to the face and body and drinks glass after glass of liquid courage without a single moment of hesitation, and is convincingly adorable when necessary.
Young keeps Bernard playful, boyish, and overly confident about his ability to juggle Gabriella (Moya O’Connell), Gloria (Kimberley Sustad), and Gretchen (a fantastically over-the-top Colleen Wheeler). Because the women work for separate airlines, all Bernard needs is his trusty timetable to ensure they never cross paths. But when all three inevitably show up at his apartment, Robert and Bernard’s poor cook-maid, Berthe (a brilliant performance by Nicola Lipman), get sucked into the charade.
The laughs come so fast and furious throughout Act 1, thanks in no small part to director David Mackay, that some people might view Act 2 as a bit of a comedown. But this is primarily the fault of the script. Boeing-Boeing’s second half is simply not paced to keep up Act 1’s momentum, and 50 years later the things that are perhaps supposed to shock the audience and simulate that “wow” factor have experienced the dulling effect of time. The audience shrugs and smiles and thinks, ‘Of course,’ because this is the comeuppance we expect.
Despite this small sputter, Boeing-Boeing is so funny, frisky, and crisply executed, it can’t help but soar. With its hilarious ensemble and inspired direction, the Arts Club has thrown down an early contender for the best production of 2013.