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Naples Players’ ‘Boeing Boeing’ provides interesting contrast with James Bond franchise


On stage in the Sugden Theatre through October 24 is The Naples Players’ production of Boeing Boeing. A farce, the show depends upon split-second comedic timing and frenetic pacing, which the production delivers in spade thanks in large measure to the meticulous direction by James Duggan and Jessica Walck and a talented and highly energetic cast that consists of Bernardo Santana, Luke Lauchle, Emilie Baartman, Erica Jones, Sarah DeLeonibus and Pamela Austin. But it also provides a rather droll contrast with the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, which hits theaters today.

At the center of the action in Boeing Boeing is a wealthy American businessman by the name of Bernard (Bernardo Santana) who maintains in residence in a luxurious playpen in the City of Love, oui, gay Paree. Bedecked in a silk bathrobe and red ascot that conjures inevitable comparisons to Hugh Hefner, it’s clear from the opening scene that Bernard is a player of the highest (or lowest, depending on your point of view) order.

When his friend, Robert (Luke Lauchle) drops by to look in on him, Bernard smugly divulges that he’s engaged to three flight attendants, a Texan named Gloria (Emilie Baartman), who flies with TWA, a fiery Italian (Erica Jones) appropriately attired in Ferrari red who is employed by Alitalia Airline and a seething, sultry German named Gretchen (Sarah DeLeonibus) who works for Lufthansa. Pulling a globe from a shelf, Bernard arrogantly describes how he and his trusty housekeeper (Pamela Austin) 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 past 57 years, 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, Bertha, 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 is watching Bernardo Santana 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. 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, and Emilie Baartman, Erica Jones and Sarah DeLeonibus deserve standing ovations for allowing their characters’ intent, goals and objectives to animate what they do, what they say and how they react to situations in which they find themselves as the action ensues.

If Boeing Boeing were a tragedy, then Luke Lauchle’s Robert and Pamela Austin’s Bertha 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), directors James Duggan and Jessica Walck never let their cast or the audience forget that at its heart, Boeing Boeing is 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 on 5th Ave or during the drive home, but while you’re in the Sugden, 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 through October 24.

October 8, 2021.


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