Marc Camoletti’s Farce Unwinds a Parisian Don Juan’s Scheme
by Patricia L. Morin
“Boeing Boeing,” a 1960s jet-set farce, is the world’s most frequently performed French play. It was first staged in English in London in 1964, two years before Benicia Theatre Group opened in the grand Divino Espirito Santo Hall. Now, Benicia has revived this light-hearted, fast-paced frolic to my delight.
The bright orange, pink, and blue set by Brian Hough, with wall paintings by renowned restoration artist Beate Brauhl, evokes 60s flashbacks. And what would a farce be without five doors to slam in wonderfully syncopated furor!
Leave your 2023 bias at home and travel back to the world of 1960.
The comedy includes a perfectionist playboy Bernard (assured Patrick Kenny) who lives in a classy bachelor’s flat in Paris. Bernard is engaged to three airline stewardesses without their knowing about each other. Later, Bernard is asked, “But you are engaged, you will be married, no? Bernard responds, “No, fiancées are more loving … Each girl feels like she’s the only one.”
He juggles their arrival times to ensure that only one of the three women will be at his flat at the same time—even allowing for bad weather. Our Don Juan has perfected a diabolical, amorous deception.
And male and female deception persists. How often do players date two or three partners secretly, even now? How often do the entertainment rags shout out the Don Juan deceptions?
Bernard’s underpaid and easily unhinged maid Bertha (boisterous Melaney Baker) often steals the show with her cutting complaints about changing photos and sheets in the bedrooms. Bertha must whip up special meals for each stewardess, as well as cover up for Bernard! She keeps the conflict high, constantly traipsing in and out, lamenting her multiple jobs.
The pace kicks up when animated country-bumpkin cousin Robert (agile Josh Roberts) comes to stay and figures out Bernard’s deceptions. Worse, thanks to much faster Boeing engines, Bernard’s arrival times table goes askew—as does he. In true French high comic style, the pace picks up exponentially, unnerving everyone, and pouring on the laughs.
The show takes a bumpy ride when the three women land at the same time at Bernard’s flat. Doors slam and women appear, then disappear. Robert cannot keep his story straight—all in the perfect style of the rollicking sex comedy.
Who will win Don Juan?
Costume Designer Donna Telepak dresses the three stewardesses in colorful, contrasting airline garb in sexy 60s uniforms—like glorified cocktail waitresses. All three charm us.
Very American feminist Gloria (secretive Helen Nolan) enjoys the frolic with Bernard but has a secret to reveal. Flippant German Gretchen (demanding Natasha Harris) turns the tables on Bernard, playing the a tough gal to perfection. While Italian Gabriella (passionate Kelsey Bye) whispers affectionate endearments in a stylish red uniform, bringing light and laughter to her role.
Director Clinton Vidal’s precision timing, movement, and fine tuning make a tightly wound comedy. Come and take this fun-filled flight back to the ‘60s.
“Boeing, Boeing” by Marc Camoletti, directed by Clinton Vidal, at Benicia Theatre Group, Benicia, California. Info: BeniciaTheatreGroup.org – to May 13, 2023.
Cast: Melaney Baker, Kelsey Bye, Natasha Harris, Patrick Kenny, Helen Nolan, and Josh Roberts.