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‘Boeing Boeing’ takes flight at Cultural Park in September


On stage September 8-17 at Cultural Park Theatre is Marc Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing, a French farce that made it into the Guinness Book of World Records in 1991 as the most performed French play throughout the world. In fact, Camoletti has been produced more that Moliere, Racine and Yasmina Reza. For good reason.

At the center of the action in Boeing Boeing is a wealthy American businessman by the name of Bernard (Kevin Velando) who maintains his residence in a luxurious playpen in the City of Love, oui, gay Paree. The consummate player, Bernard conjures inevitable comparisons to Hugh Hefner.

When his friend, Robert (John Strealy) drops by to look in on him, Bernard smugly divulges that he’s engaged to three flight attendants, a New Yorker named Gloria (Rosie DeLeon), who flies with TWA, a fiery Italian by the name of Gabriella (Jennifer Toral) who is employed by Alitalia Airline and a seething, sultry German named Gretchen (Isabel Slattery) who works for Lufthansa. Pulling a globe from a shelf, Bernard arrogantly describes how he and his trusty housekeeper (Laura LeRoy) are able to keep each of the girls in the dark about the other two women by making sure that their schedules never bring them to Paris at the identical time. But hold the phone ladies and gentlemen, much of the fun delivered by this smartly contrived and tightly choreographed plot comes at Bernard’s expense as the ladies in his life, including his housekeeper, get the better of him in delightfully unexpected ways.

The character of Bernard stands in stark contrast to his contemporary from another highly lucrative franchise, namely Ian Fleming’s unapologetic series centered on misogynist British spy James Bond. While 007 has gone through various iterations over the six decades, with Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan adding nuance and gradation to Sean Connery’s suave womanizer, Bond has remained an aloof, coldly-calculating predator with a license to seduce. During his five-film tenure, Daniel Craig has infused the amoral not-so-secret agent with a sense of vulnerability, it only serves to make Bond’s brutality-bordering-on-thuggery that much more malevolent.

Boeing Boeing is a rejection, if not repudiation, of the high-testosterone serial conquest of sexual targets implicit in the mental/emotional make-up of the movies’ penultimate spy. For Bernard, it is not about pursuit and subjugation but the adrenaline rush of moving his conquests seamlessly into and out of his apartment without them encountering either of his other two fiancees. Part of the fun in Boeing Boeing inheres in watching Bernard and his housekeeper, Berthe, change the photos in his picture frames and reverse the throw pillows and other accessories from TWA blue to Alitalia red to Lufthansa yellow and back again as Gloria, Gabriella and Gretchen make their entrances and exits through the various doors in the apartment. But Bernard dissolves into a puddle of putty as his master plan unravels and the girls begin showing up at the same time. One of the evening’s highlights will be Kevin Velando clutching his chest and breaking out into a cold sweat as his loss of control and concomitant risk of being found out erode his arrogance and condescension.

Boeing Boeing also contrasts with the early Bond movies when it comes to the female characters portrayed. Being cast as a “Bond girl” was something of a branding coup in 1960s, but (no disrespect to Ursula Andress, Tatiana Romanova, Martine Beswick or the immortal Honor Blackman) the women they portrayed had little more intellect than Barbies. Oh, snap! That may not be such a bad thing nowadays.

But in contradistinction to the stereotype conjured by the image of an early airline stewardess, Gloria, Gabriella and Gretchen are intelligent, motivated women with definitive agendas. Each woman is as unique and intriguing in a way that transcends their nationalities, accents and hair color.

If Boeing Boeing were a tragedy, then John Strealy’s Robert and Laura LeRoy’s Berthe would be the Greek chorus. Each traverses a well-defined character arc that places them in juxtaposition to Bernard. Will that be enough for them to turn the tables on the smug and supercilious man they respectively call friend and employer? Well that’s another dimension to the fun and surprisingly relevant morality play that French playwright Marc Camoletti produced under the title of Boeing Boeing.

While Camoletti clearly had much to say in opposition to the zeitgeist and social mores of his day (and as evidenced by the James Bond franchise), Boeing Boeing is, at its heart, a highly entertaining and extremely satisfying door-slamming, heart-pounding, preposterously situational comedic farce. If you’re so inclined, you can ponder the deeper meanings associated with the production over after-theater drinks or during the drive home, but while you’re at Cultural Park, just sit back and enjoy the beautiful set, the droll-to-rib-splitting repartee and split-second choreography as the girls enter and exit and the boys try to keep them from meeting each other (or, in Robert’s case, he angles to get a little somethin’ somethin’ of his own).

Boeing Boeing runs September 8-17, 2023.

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