Sunday, March 22, 2015

"Boeing Boeing" - High-Flying Cast Grounded by Lackluster Script

Cast of Boeing Boeing L to R: Amanda Pulcini as Gloria, Tony Bingham as Bernard, Kelly Trumbull as Gabriella, Connor McCanlus as Robert, Elizabeth Ruetas as Berthe and Lisa Ann Goldsmith as Gretchen

Give me three perky gals, one playboy and a slew of doors, and I feel a farce coming on.
A genre that goes in for nonsensical plots, highly exaggerated situations and hilarity at its zaniest, farce depends more on a skillfully developed situations rather than character development. Examples of theatrical farces include Noel Coward’s "Hay Fever," Joe Orton’s "What the Butler Saw" and Georges Feydeau’s "A Flea in Her Ear," all of which have had me squealing in my seat with giggly delight on numerous occasions.
So why then did "Boeing Boeing," playwright Marc Camoletti’s 1960’s farce set in the early jet era and now playing at the CLO’s Cabaret Theater in Downtown Pittsburgh leave me less than chuckle fulfilled?
It couldn’t be the cast, which is both talented and motivated to the point of going the extra mile, pouring into their work an unbelievable amount of physical energy and stamina. Timing in comedy is crucial to a successful delivery, and this group of Thespians maneuvers through the two and a half hour long mania like clockwork. Doors slam and open in tandem, just like they should. People come and go, adroitly missing one another by a matter of mere seconds.
The pivotal character is Bernard, a conniving roué with a stylish Paris apartment and a penchant for picking up airline flight attendants (stewardesses back in the 60s, the era in which the farce is set). When the play opens, he has three of them that he judiciously juggles in and out of his love nest by keeping tabs on their flights in and out of town, sequestering their knowledge of one another and keeping chance encounters at a bare minimum, which is to say zero.
Gloria (Amanda Pulcini) is American, flies for TWA and is on her way to San Francisco one fine morning, vacating the apartment just as Gabriella (Cathy Trumbull), an Italian, is about to land in time for lunch. That leaves Gretchen (Lisa Ann Goldsmith), a German who flies for Lufthansa and comes on a bit like the female Commandant in Lena Wurtmuller’s film "Seven Beauties" but with oodles more sex appeal, a visual voluptuary with tinges of "Fifty Shades of Grey" sensibilities.
All three actresses manage to escape the charge of being stereotypic and cut from the same character mold by giving cleverly nuanced and colorful performances. If variety is the spice of life, Bernard can revel in the differentiated savoriness that comes with these three distinct personalities.
An accomplice to his romantic machinations is Berthe (Elizabeth Ruelas), who grudgingly serves as Bernard’s maid, preparing customized meals that appeal to each flight attendant’s nationality and keeping things tidy with a dour temperament that comes off as astringent comedy.
As Bernard, Tony Bingham is a boyish, self-confident lothario who takes his master plan for debauchery too much for granted, thereby setting himself up for an inevitable fall. Just how long can you keep three mistresses from colliding with one another when all three use his apartment as their Parisian  home base?
The monkey wrench that brings him down gets thrown into plot just after the arrival of Robert, his boyhood friend from Wisconsin who  brings with him a rural mind set that seems more 40s than 60s. Naïve and bumpkinish, Robert (Connor McCanlus) soon becomes the mastermind that takes over when all three of the flight attendants arrive chez Bernard at various times on the same day.
Each of the women get assigned their own room in Bernard’s spacious apartment, elegantly designed by Tony Ferrieri in light pastel colors, and manage to avoid meeting despite their frequent comings and goings from room to room. As the play progresses, events become more and more frenzied, Bernard more and more frantic, Robert more and more mentally nimble, jumping impending catastrophic hurdles that seem impossible to scale. Berthe, pushed to the limit of endurance, surprisingly lends the two gents a hand by keeping the ruse going and the ladies from meeting.
Particularly impressive is McCanlus, whose work seems to get stronger the deeper into the plot it goes. Initially, I perceived him as an inconsequential character, there for a few laughs as a bumbling nerd, but he actually becomes the play’s pivotal character who dominates the action in a most deliciously humorous way.
So why then, with such fertile soil for comedy and a cast and crew up to the challenge, do I rebuke the production, (though only mildly so)?
I partially blame Camoletti’s script, which seemed a little lame, studded with too many moments of pure silliness and overly long and in need of a little pruning. But, considering the large size of the audience during my Thursday evening visit and the fact that the original run of Boeing, scheduled to end on April 26, has been extended to May 10, means that others experience the farce differently
I attribute my going against the grain of popular opinion as a matter of personal taste. I’m often at variance with the opinion of the general public, eschewing such popular pastimes and preferences as NASCAR, certain fast food franchises, March Madness (except when Pitt’s in it), Rap music and, dare I admit it, Primanti sandwiches.
It seems as if audience demand and taste for the CLO Cabaret production, directed by executive director, Van Kaplan, no less, will keep "Boeing Boeing" flying longer than originally intended. To me, however, it became a holding pattern at the end of a long flight that kept the theater experience going a bit longer than I’d have wished.
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