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Review: ‘Boeing’ lands at MVT
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / email@example.com
A French architect living in Paris in 1960 is able to maintain romantic relationships with three flight attendants because their strict flight schedules ensure that two of them are always out of town.
The architect — Bernard is his name — has their comings and goings plotted out with such precision that he can bid one of them “Bon voyage” while another is on her way to his apartment and the third is safely far far away.
Bernard’s smoothly synchronized sex life is turned upside down when all three women arrive in town unexpectedly.
Presented by Manoa Valley Theatre
» Where: 2833 E. Manoa Valley Rd.
Welcome to France on the eve of the Swinging ‘60s as captured by French playwright Marc Camoletti in his 1960 social farce, “Boeing Boeing.”
First presented in English in London in 1962 and then on Broadway in 1965, “Boeing Boeing” was successfully revived nationally several years ago. Manoa Valley Theatre’s current production is the first-ever staging of the show in Hawaii. MVT guest director Elitei Tatafu Jr., wisely doesn’t tamper with the story, as has been done in other parts of the world, but two basic elements in the story seem driven more by the requirements of the plot rather than anything seen in his cast’s work on stage.
First, what is it about Bernard that makes him so irresistible to these women? MVT veteran Mathias Maas plays Bernard as a blasé white-collar schlub for most of Act I.
Second, why does Robert, his sexually inexperienced boyhood friend and temporary house guest, commit so quickly and completely to helping maintain the deception when Bernard’s carefully constructed juggling act starts to falter? Ken Roberts (Robert) goes from mousy nerd to manic conspirator in little more time than it takes to read these words.
As with many works of fiction one must simply accept the premise and go with it — or not.
Either way, MVT’s Hawaii premiere production is an impressive vehicle for Roberts. The role is a character type that might been played on the local stage in previous years by Daniel James Kunkel, Matthew Pennaz or Lance Rae — or by director Tatafu himself. Roberts makes it his own. Roberts’ facial expressions in the scenes where Robert (the character) begins to outgrow his shyness and assess his opportunities tell the story without a word said. His reactions to the women at key moments are also well-played.
The flight attendants are defined by their nationalities, the carriers they fly for and the color of their uniforms. Janet (Dusty Behner) is a stereotypical American with a vaguely southern accent; she flies for TWA and wears a red uniform. Jacqueline (Therese Olival) is French, flies for Air France, wears blue and has a surprising capability for violence. Judith (Mackenzie Jahnke) is a stereotypically bombastic German who flies for Lufthansa and wears yellow. Each woman has stereotypical food preferences that are accommodated by Bernard’s grumpy live-in maid, Bertha (Shannon Winpenny). The maid is also responsible for changing key elements of the decor as various women come and go.
Behner is adorable as the loud American who likes tomato sauce “on everything.” Jahnke makes her MVT debut memorable indeed with her performance as the broadest and most stereotypical comic character. Keep in mind that those two characters are Americans and Germans as seen through the eyes of a French writer in 1960 and the broad-brush treatments make sense.
Jahnke and Winpenny are the stars of a early comic scene where the German pours out her heart to the maid and ends up climbing all over her in a non-sexual way. Winpenny’s reactions to being manhandled — or, one might say, “woman-handled” — are a wonder to behold.
The energy level skyrockets after intermission. Roberts, Behner and Jahnke soar higher as physical comedians, and Bernard’s changing fortunes create situations that give Maas more material to work with.
James Davenport’s beautifully detailed set provides a beautiful platform for the actors. There are a lot of doors, and almost every door has a light above it that lights up when the room behind it is occupied. Those lights get a lot of use!
Camoletti’s script includes a good number of memorable one-liners — Janet’s comments about American men and women in particular. It was, however, a broadly pantomimed bit about the flatulence that supposedly results when a Frenchman eats sauerkraut that got the loudest and longest laughter from the audience on opening night.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.