Prior to seeing it in Ferndale, Boeing Boeing was a play I only knew through the 1966 film version with Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis — "The Big Comedy of Nineteen Sixty-SEX!" shouted the tagline on the poster. That line is enough to indicate that the film and the play belonged to that era of swingin' bachelors, martini shakers and married gentlemen who were not just keyholders at The Playboy Club, but regulars.
So it's certainly a product of its time, having run for seven years in London's West End, but it's also a product of a much earlier time, with Marc Camoletti's play being a classic farce in every sense of the word, right down to the total number of doors slammed — which is pretty much impossible to keep up with — and also its French setting. That setting, specifically, is the 1962 Parisian flat of American playboy Bernard, who has developed a perfect system for his lifestyle: He's engaged to three different flight attendants (for whom we are reminded the preferred term back in that period was "air hostess"), and has managed to jerry-rig his schedule with theirs so that only one is in Paris at any given time, and they consider his home to be theirs during layovers.
Assisting in this fiction is his long-suffering French housekeeper Bertha, who assists with everything from switching the photographs of the fiancées for their stays, to making sure the right food is on hand for the respective tastes of TWA's Gloria, Alitalia's Garbriella and Lufthansa's Gretchen. Into this milieu comes his less suave old friend from back in the states, Robert, who marvels at Bernard's apparent skill in pulling off such an arrangement. However, this being the realm of farce, Robert's arrival dovetails early in the first act of with the well-scheduled timetables getting thrown awry. It's a full 33 minutes until Bernard actually gets struck in the face by a door, although Robert manages to knock over a large ficus tree before that.
True to period, the non-American characters are all drawn and portrayed with exaggerated elements of their corresponding national stereotypes (Gallic rudeness, Mediterranean feistiness and Teutonic overbearingness), which keeps things in comic gear, along with the blonde Texas belle that is TWA's Gloria. Any weakness to the play belongs to the datedness of its material, but that is mostly negated by the fast pace of the comic hijinks, as well as the fact that the basic premise and humor are things that could've clicked just as well in Moliere's time. Also, devoid of any leering, nudge-nudge laughs, Boeing Boeing holds up years later as a good candidate for restaging.
Dell'Arte alum Ryan Musil keeps the proceedings going at a most lively clip, and as Bernard and Robert, Chris Hamby and Evan Needham play off each other and the rest of the cast well. Needham actually has more stage time, as he's forced to fend with the almost-but-not-quite-intersections of the three fiancées, who are played with great zip. Alyssa Hughlett (an honest to golly-Texan) has a second-act bit with Needham involving a surreal exchange and some literal acrobatics that must be seen to be believed, and Julia Hjerpe nails her marks (and her Italian accent) deftly. But it is Alexandra Bloiun's Gretchen who carries the day. Like a force of nature who seems about nine feet high onstage at times, Bloiun — another Dell'Arte grad — makes her FRT debut a thing to behold, using her body as a perfectly tuned instrument of physical comedy on everything from pratfalls to brandishing a table above her head, bellowing out in a perfect fraulein accent such lines as "I must keep zee fires of passion burning vithin me!" And as Bertha, fellow Dell'Artian Kaitlen Osburn does a great job as the eye-rolling, sarcastic Parisian maid.
Kudos go to Lynnie Horrigan's costumes, which include some dazzling re-creations of early-1960s flight attendant uniforms, including Gloria's appropriately red-white-and-blue ensemble. And credit must also go to Carl McGahan's sets, which successfully withstand so many slamming doors, all the while looking quite Parisian.
All in all, and especially for holding up better than I thought it might, Boeing Boeing is a crowd-pleasing romp, taking place over the course of a single day, emboldened by good practitioners of physical comedy who compensate for some brief lags in the original material. Besides, what's not to like about a play that ends with a pillow fight?
Boeing Boeing plays at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. though Oct. 25. For tickets and information call 786-5483 or go to www.ferndalerep.org.
Kiss Me Kate, Cole Porter's musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew dances into the Van Duzer Theatre with a "Broadway-size orchestra" on Friday, Oct. 16. Humboldt State University's players keep the witty banter going through Oct. 25. $15, $10. www.HSUStage.blogspot.com.
Personal stories from veterans and other survivors of war come to life in the multimedia Echoes of War at the Arcata Playhouse from Oct. 22 to Oct. 25. The dress rehearsal on Wednesday, Oct. 21 is open to veterans with discussion following the performance. $10, $8 veterans. 822-1575. www.arcataplayhouse.org.
Redwood Curtain Theatre presents Going to St. Ives, opening Oct. 29 and running through Nov. 21. In this drama, the meeting of an English doctor and the mother of an African dictator sparks discussion about "morality and motherhood." $20, $10. 443-7688. www.redwoodcurtain.com.