On Stage: 'Boeing Boeing' bounces audiences back to the 1960s
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Remember in the 1960s when being married was a woman’s holy grail, often achieved through incessant performances of just the right “bend and snap?”
Oh, wait, that was the 21st-century musical “Legally Blonde.”
At least in "Blonde," Elle goes to law school in between the heartbreak and the proposal. In the ‘60s, the few young women who wanted to pursue law -- or any other “man’s career” -- faced tough odds even getting into law school and almost no chance of getting a job. But if they were pretty, and not too old or overweight, they could be stewardesses. “Air hostesses,” they were called then.
The comedic “Boeing Boeing,” written by Marc Camoletti and presented by Dramatic License Theatre, is the story of a man who takes three such women up on their offers of “Coffee, tea or me?” with an answer that leaves him still thirsty, albeit satiated in other ways. Bernard (Chad Morris), an American architect living in France, keeps his trio of fiancees on a tight schedule. Fortunately they all work for different airlines. “The secret is order,” Bernard explains. “Pure mathematics.”
An “international harem” is what Bernard’s old friend Robert (John Reidy) calls Gloria from Texas (Deanna Mazdra), Gabriella from Italy (Natasha Toro) and Gretchen from Germany (Emily Baker).
Baker’s Gretchen, alone, may be a reason to go see “Boeing Boeing” even if you have to make yourself sore jumping over the sexism and homophobia that permeate the script. (But it’s a farce! Remember? Isn't it?)
Big, bold and guttural, Gretchen describes how she sometimes wanders off at night into the Lufthansa luggage hold to look out at the very stars and moon Bernard also sees: “ ... as though we are lookink into each other’s eyes across the layers of planets and meteorites and the ne-bu-lah ... ”
You have to imagine the word “nebulae” elongated with enunciation and uttered as though it’s a body part praised in the throes of a passionate encounter. But words on a page don’t do justice to Gretchen -- or anyone else in this over-the-top drama packed with physical comedy.
The second reason you might temporarily suspend your belief system is Bernard’s French maid Berthe (pronounced Berta), played by Dramatic License founder Kim Furlow. Berthe likes “a leetle beet of fun,” but the whirlwind of Bernard’s existence is “ees no life for a maid.”
Of the women’s impending collision, Berthe says: “There ees probably a storm coming.”
“You’re right about that,” answers Robert. You can almost hear the Jerry Lewis (who played Robert in the 1965 movie) in his voice, and the Tony Curtis in Bernard’s.
Like the trio of Barbie dolls on the “Boeing Boeing” poster, Gloria, Gabriella and Gretchen (at least Bernard doesn’t have to change the monogrammed towels between fiancees) adore their man.
Watch highlights of a few scenes from “Boeing Boeing” as presented by California’s La Mirada Theatre.
But make no mistake: These women are hardly pushovers. Tough “broads,” they take on the men at every turn, pushing them, pouncing on them and stomping on their toes. “The man makes the money and the woman is the brains -- that’s how we do it in Texas,” Gloria drawls.
Under the direction of Brad Schwartz, one fiancee disappears behind a slammed door just in time for another fiancee to enter. All this split-second slamming makes everyone jumpy (especially Bernard, who never intended to have all three women in his apartment at one time) so “slam-shut-shout, repeat” is a recurring theme.
“Boeing Boeing” holds a Guinness Record as the most performed French play. Translated in 1962, it was first performed for English-speaking audiences before Title IX, before Ms. Magazine and just before “The Feminine Mystique.”
Keep that in mind, laugh your way through, and recover at home by watching the new PBS special “Makers,” profiling the leaders of America's women's movement.