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Cabin Pressure

by John Rodat on July 6, 2011


In 1991, Marc Camoletti’s Boeing-Boeing was entered into the Guinness Book of Records as the most-performed French play in the world—30 years after its debut. To gain such recognition over such countrymen as Voltaire, Molière, Sartre, could suggest something special in the composition; but the fact that the play has been translated and produced from Broadway to Bombay, both on stage and in film, suggests more strongly something universal in the subject matter. Could it be . . . yes, of course, sexual antics.

Boeing-Boeing is as representative an example of bedroom farce as you could ask for. And in this Theater Barn production, all the conventions of the form are executed with real comic zeal and big personality. It tells the story of Bernard, a bachelor architect living in Paris and simultaneously romancing three different women—all of them airline hostesses (the accommodating moniker of cabin crew at the time of the play’s penning). When Bernard’s old friend Robert arrives unexpectedly from the States, Bernard proudly explains to him the clever construction of his lifestyle: He easily tracks the comings and goings of his trio of fiancées with precise timetables provided by the airlines themselves. It’s a tidy arrangement for a slick and swinging man of the ’60s. Even Robert, a bit of a rustic rube, is impressed by the operation and eager to accept Bernard’s hospitality. What better chance to watch this slick, sexy and fail-safe operation up close?

Cue antics. Aeronautical innovations and flukes of meteorology threaten to destroy Bernard’s, ahem, clockwork, and Robert is quickly embroiled, if excitedly so, in a harried bit of domestic air-traffic control. Hostesses storm and/or slink in and out, crying, cooing, pitching woo and pitching fits, tattering well-laid plans and fraying nerves. It’s slight and very silly stuff, and without the right players these conventions could have come across as trite to post-sit-com audience. But the cast were all solid and extremely spirited.

As Bernard, Matthew Daly hit exactly the right notes of smugness and self-satisfaction, without being smarmy or cruel, so that he remained sympathetic as his scheme collapsed around him. Meg Dooley was appropriately indignant and exhausted as Bernard’s complicit maid. Kathleen Boddington, Vanessa Dunleavy and Meliessa Macleod Herion as the Italian, Texan and German hostesses, respectively, brought more than just sure accents. Herion, in particular, was excellent: Her intense interpretation of Teutonic passion was hysterically over-the-top.

As Robert, Dominick Varney gets special mention. He simply killed: His Robert was a mix of a Tommy Smothers-like demented doofus and an acidly overextended Ryan Reynolds. His scenes with Herion were bats in the best possible way. Though judging from the audience’s consistently uproarious reaction, other theatergoers had many other favorite moments. In fact, individual punchlines received applause throughout the night, like jazz solos.

Though Boeing-Boeing is not highbrow, particularly sophisticated nor startlingly original, it’s a solid instance of an enduring type of theatrical comedy; and as performed by these very fun and talented actors, it’s a laugh.