Boeing-Boeing – A Tough Landing
Well, hello, kittens! It’s been too long. I’m now bloated by gingerbread and hungover on, well, wine (DUH) so it’s time to go home to The Bad Oracle for some hot reviewing action. And I’m in luck. Post-holiday, the Baltimore small theater scene is just awash with openings. First up is Marc Camoletti’s Boeing-Boeing, a little French number currently playing at Fells Point Corner Theater. This Mad Men era piece of…fluff (bet you though I was gonna say ass but I didn’t because that’s not classy) is of a genre that’s pretty much dead nowadays: the true sex farce. You know the kind of thing. Girls here, girls there, girls fucking everywhere and it’s the hapless Dapper Dan’s Herculean task to keep ’em all straight and from finding out about one another. Doors slam, phones ring, buzzers buzz and before long you’ve got a real sexy mess on your hands (EW). In this one, Our Hero, should we choose to accept him, is Bernard (Adam Bloedorn). Bernard is hard for scheduling, and that’s a good thing, because he’s figured out a system wherein he can be engaged to three stewardesses…uh…air hostesses…at the same time. Wow! Bernard simply utilizes a friend at the airport to keep him up to speed on who’s touching down when and his salty maid, Berthe (Kate Shoemaker), forever changing the pictures in the master bedroom and dinner’s national cuisine. The girls (in this kind of thing, they’re always girls and never women) are The American (Welsley Niemann), The Italian (Rachel Roth) and The German (a bugle-voiced Cassandra Dutt). Into this hotbed of sexual depravity bumbles good ol’ Wisconsinite Robert (David Shoemaker) an old friend of Bernard’s who comes a’visitin just at the right (or wrong, I guess) moment. We know what’s gonna happen – nothing ever runs on time, not even Mussolini could really do that – eventually these hot tickets are going to bump into each other and all hell is going to break loose. [Quick side note-It goes without saying that this is all unbelievably sexist. Most of these tropes have aged pretty poorly and what were probably screamingly funny jokes in 1965 don’t play as well post, you know, fucking cultural uprising. Now, I knew that I was going to see a mid-century French sex farce and not a Women’s Studies lecture, but still. There may have been a way to do this show that winked at the terrifyingly misogynist underpinnings of the script but it seems director Josh Shoemaker had enough to do just keeping it’s eyes open and pointed in the right direction without throwing winking into the equation. My instinct is that this play was chosen with an eye towards who most likely pays the bills around Fells Point Corner, but that’s just a guess.] Anyhow, first the good: I really, truly, loved the set. It’s FABU. As you can see from the press photo, it’s a Mondrian based bright and busy walled thing that’s just absolutely perfect. It looks like the crazy opening credits of a Rock Hudson/Doris Day flick. I see a lot of plays set in living rooms, guys. It’s real nice to see some design enter into things. If Set Designer Roy Steinman does conversation pits, I’m hiring him to do my family room STAT. In terms of the players, I quite enjoyed Shoemaker’s (Kate, I mean. I have a feeling I’d need a family tree chart to keep all these Shoemakers straight.) French-maid-yeah-but-not-that-kind Berthe. For my money, her off-handed disdain for the whole situation brought the biggest laughs in the show. She gets it. The ladies, in general, understand that in a play like this, it doesn’t work if the stakes aren’t high enough. In other words, we can’t think that the girls are going to cry if they find out. We have to think they’re going to kill. Most successful and funniest in this arena is Roth’s hot blooded Gabriella. David Shoemaker’s Robert also had some satisfyingly ill-at-ease moments. I loved Shoemaker in last fall’s Orphans – he didn’t capture me as much here, but he does knows how to work a stage. What goes up must come down, though, so here’s the not so good: there were two things really off here that killed it for me- pacing and energy. The pacing of the show was just wrong and for a farce, that’s the big one. Scenes that should have rocked kind of stoned, jokes that should have pounced kind of mewed. I wanted to see a slow build getting faster and faster and funnier and funnier and ending with a frantic bang but instead things dragged and felt disappointingly uneven, especially towards the end. Just when you thought those doors were going to really get slamming, and things were really heating up, they stalled. I also found the energy weird. This is a sex comedy, folks. It should feel raucous and ridiculous and, well, sexy. Instead, many moments were oddly slow and plodding and what should have been blistering sexual energy was like a wet firework.
Bottom line: Comedy is harder than tragedy but farce is harder than comedy – and farce on opening weekend is harder than the judges table at a naked women’s (or, for that matter, men’s) jello wrestling contest. There were things to like about this but unfortunately, for the most part, Boeing-Boeing stayed on the tarmac. Maybe it’ll gain enough momentum to eventually take off but I don’t know. For me strange pacing and damp energy made it a French miss.
Running at Fells Point Corner Theater until February 9th
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