In Boeing-Boeing, the 1960 French sex comedy by Marc Camoletti (translated by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans) that’s now being mounted by Saint Sebastian Players, protagonist Bernard (Garrett Wiegel), an expat American in Paris, is juggling three different “fiancees.” He explains to friend Robert (Joshua Paul Wright), who is visiting from Wisconsin, the one central tenet behind maintaining his lascivious lifestyle: order.
Boeing-Boeing Through 11/20: Fri-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 2 PM, Saint Bonaventure Church, 1625 W. Diversey, saintsebastianplayers.org, $30 (seniors, children under 12, and students with valid ID $25)
Bernard tracks the comings-and-goings of his paramours, all flight attendants, thanks to their airlines’ timetables. Three, he has determined, is the number of women that most effectively defies monotony without overwhelming the order allowing him to preserve this arrangement. Keeping each relegated to the status of “fiancee” keeps them interested enough to stick around without anyone crossing the line into full-time commitment. He doesn’t need to get to know them too well, since he’s confident the airlines—with their strict standards of appearance and acuity—have done the work for him already.
But this is a French sex comedy. Six doors flank the stage; you don’t need to be especially clairvoyant to determine those wouldn’t be there—ready to be slammed open and shut—unless Bernard’s carefully thought-out order was not about to be disrupted.
Bernard fails to accurately emphasize the outsized role that his housekeeper, Berthe (Lauren Miller), plays in all this. The ultimate expression of what happens when you mix indolence and passive-aggression with a heaping helping of martyr complex, Berthe’s the one who really keeps this setup afloat, and the jet-age precision Bernard congratulates himself for is really just Berthe staying three steps ahead of his paramours even as she picks up the messes he leaves behind. Miller commands your focus even as she comes in and surveys the antics happening across the stage.
Each of Bernard’s fiancees is based on archetype, and thanks to a storm in the North Atlantic and changes in schedule, they all—who’d have thought it?—happen to show up on the same day.
The no-nonsense American, Gloria (Claire Rutkowski), seems to travel with the least amount of emotional baggage, though she continuously disgusts Berthe by her choices in food toppings. Gabriella (Allison Zanolli) is an Italian spitfire based more on archetypes created by Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren in movies more than actual observations of real Italian women.
Then there’s Gretchen (Valerie Gerlock), Bernard’s self-proclaimed “little fiancee from beyond the Rhine,” whose arrival motivates much of act two. Exuding the energy of a Valkyrie throughout, Gerlock brilliantly contrasts Gretchen’s need for love with her need for order; Robert is alternately terrified and turned on, and it doesn’t take long for all these arrivals to usurp Bernard’s oh-so carefully curated love life.
I’ll hand it to Saint Sebastian Players for tackling Boeing-Boeing (directed by Sean Michael Barrett), a show that closed quickly on Broadway but played for years in the West End. They don’t make them much like this anymore, as the saying goes, and I’m a sucker for stuff with slamming doors, funny shower caps, and wisecracking domestics.
But, even if this is for the sake of laughs, there might be more viewers nowadays who will be made queasy by the gender politics of the script. Bernard refers to his fiancees as if they have the interchangeability of Barbie dolls, and there are weird references to his “friend from Orly” who brokers a meeting with a new woman whenever Bernard gets dumped. Bernard’s deceptions are motivated by the same misogyny the first Austin Powers movie parodied back in 1997.
It feels like Robert takes center stage trying to do damage control more than Bernard does. Wright is excellent depicting Robert’s country-boy naïveté, which threatens to give in to the continual temptations offered by Bernard’s excesses. Wright is elastic in his performance too—he has the most physical role of the cast and handles the slapstick and a few pratfalls deftly. (I’m not sure how anyone who grew up in Wisconsin in the 50s and 60s would be so mystified by Gretchen’s German-ness, though!)
The production smartly transformed the Saint Bonaventure fellowship hall into a mod Parisian bachelor pad, thanks to set designer Emil Zbella, and the costumes by Robert-Eric West look great. Boeing-Boeing’s script drags a bit (the entrances and exits likely defy cuts), but the performances here more than anything take the show to cruising altitude.