THEATER REVIEW: Script’s overweight baggage grounds Ghent’s ‘Boeing’

BOEING BOEING / Ghent Playhouse

“BOEING BOEING” is too much. It is too much of almost everything, starting with exposition. For many minutes the playwright, Marc Camoletti, tells us that the evening is going to be about a handsome jerk living in Paris who manages to schedule his life around three airline hostesses, each one as a beddable “fiancée.” And that’s bound to be trouble. (Funny trouble, one may hope.)

Okay. We get it. We get the premise. We got it many minutes ago, Camoletti! Given the play’s title, I suppose everyone would have suspected the moment they spied the set’s seven doors of farce (one of which was French, of course).

In this production, there is too much movement. Actors dash frantically every which way for stretches way too long. There are too many decibels. (There is so much yelling of lines that the yelling ceases to have impact.) There are too many comic-strip facial contortions. (Even talented Mark Wilson as the apologetic Robert goes there.)

There is too much caricature of womanhood, a convention that has (thank goodness) pretty much vanished from the culture. The ladies are exaggerated, shallow sexpots, all out of ’50s/’60s-vintage movie clichés, and only Olga Bogdanova as Gabriella begins to suggest a real human being as the play progresses.

The dry, understated delivery of Sally McCarthy as the maid Berthe is a welcome respite from the other goings-on in this flat. Much as her character complains about the nutty people around her, Berthe’s phony feather-dusting is obviously an excuse to be in the room, the better to observe the frantic action.

Even as farce, this plot is too much. Would the sex-starved nebbish Robert (Wilson) really suffer so much anxiety and abuse just to be “wing man” for a person out of his remote past? Can three women really be so superficial, so easily swayed as the play indicates and abruptly concludes? Even in the early ’60s, did anyone over the age of 12 actually practice kissing-technique? Aren’t the final attacks of monogamy (which suddenly descend on these men) merely a playwright’s totally pasted-on device? There are limits to the farce-excuse.

In this production, the part of Bernard, the philandering fraud (played by Mark Carway), is too much about Carway’s good looks and not enough about acting; and poor writing, high decibels, and a bad wig impede Christina Reeves as the overpowering Gretchen.

The set is almost too much–but not quite. Sam Reilly and director Cathy Lee-Visscher designed it, and it is tasty. The crucial farce-doors are whipped cream. The walls are whipped cream, as are the sofa, the chair, the table, and the elaborate French telephone. Best of all are two tall, elegant whipped cream vases perched virginally on a whipped cream shelf. It’s all enjoyable Danish-modern, late-’50s-MOMA. But of course, a good set cannot rescue a play.

This one runs through April 3rd. And if you yearn for better playwriting, take heart. Molière is coming to Ghent Playhouse on May 20.

Yes, “Boeing Boeing” is too much—and also too little.

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