Monday, September 23, 2013

Boeing, Boeing, Lakeland Civic Theatre

(From left to right: Beth Lee, Tess Elizabeth Burgler, Brian Zoldessy, and Jeffery Grover)

If humor is based on truth, then it’s probably not a good idea to build a comedy around a concept such as: Airline schedules are infallible! These days, the arrival and departure times for airplanes are more like rough estimates scrawled on a cocktail napkin that are easily amended or crumpled up entirely.

Not so back in the 1960s, when the French playwright and farceur Marc Camoletti wrote Boeing, Boeing. In this production at the Lakeland Civic Theatre, directed by Martin Friedman, fulltime lothario Bernard relies on the clockwork precision of airlines so that he can rotate three stewardess “fiancĂ©es” through his Paris flat without any of them being the wiser.

Once you accept the show’s premise as a charming anachronism, the stage is set for lots of door-slamming hijinks. And that does happen at times.  But the over-long and repetitive script, as translated by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans, eventually wrings a lot of the humor out of what should have been a sprightly romp.

Bernard is busy romancing an international goulash of stews: Gloria from TWA, Gabriella from Alitalia and Gretchen from Lufthansa. So feel free to duck as the stereotype characterizations and jokes, um, fly fast and furious. A complicating element is added when Bernard’s old pal Robert, a dweeb from Wisconsin, stops by for a quick visit and then decides to stay.

The suave Bernard is intent on educating Robert in his technique of engaging but never marrying women—two of whom who are flying to all parts of the world while he’s boffing the third one who’s on the ground. He is aided in this carousel of carnality by crusty Bertha, his aging maid with a nasty attitude.

The script, however, is quite creaky. There is so much repeated exposition of Bernard’s game plan early on that you want to scream, “Get on with it, already!” But it doesn’t, and we are past the one-hour mark of this 2½ hour piece before any comical sparks start flying.

During that time, there is a lot of set-up palaver between Bernard, Robert and Bertha that never ignites. As Bernard, a smooth and assured Jeffery Grover firmly establishes Bernard as a master of his universe. But he is so cool early on you never feel the passion of this man outside of his cringingly-intense, Al Gore-style kisses when a couple of the stews arrive.

The role of snarky Bertha calls for an actor who can create her own comedy magic (as Thelma Ritter did in the movie version). But Beth Lee makes Bertha unpleasant without being particularly funny, a rather deadly combination for this kind of farce.

Katie Nabors is cute and amorous as Gloria. But her momentary infatuation with Robert is based on a quirk that doesn’t track (and that isn’t worth repeating at the play’s conclusion).  Nancy Telzerow does the hot-tempered Italian thing as Gabriella. But neither her nor Nabors’ roles allow them to vent in more interesting ways

A couple of elements of this production work splendidly. As Robert, Brian Zoldessy is a limp, human sock-puppet of a man and, after the stultifying early scenes, he’s often hilarious. Using his bespectacled, sad-sack face and slumped posture, Zoldessy is a sight gag without even saying a word.

Benefitting from one of the best-written roles, Tess Elizabeth Burgler makes Gretchen a Teutonic tower of uncompromising need. Bossing Robert around before a surprising turn of affection, Burgler is a treat. And her scenes with Zoldessy crackle with the perfect pacing for fluff of this sort.

There are laugh-out-loud moments in Boeing, Boeing, but not nearly as many as one might desire. Cut out an hour of the scripting fat, and this could be a fast-paced one-act comedy sprint. But that’s as much of a dream as hoping, these days, for an on-time flight.

Boeing, Boeing
Through October 6 at the Lakeland Civic Theatre, Lakeland Community College Campus (Just south of Rt. 90 and Rt. 306 in Kirtland), 440-525-7034.

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