by Brenda W. Clough
The farce is one of the most ancient forms of drama. I am certain that Plato sat in the amphitheater in Athens and watched slamming doors and actors chasing each other around the stage socking each other with pillows. And I saw Boeing Boeing staged by the NextStop Theater Company in northern Virginia recently.
Most people have heard of the 1965 movie, starring Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis. But I was charmed to learn that the film was based on a classic French farce. Translated into English Boeing-Boeing ran for years in London in the 1960s. The Broadway revival in 2008 won a pack of Tony awards. It is now a mainstay of the smaller theater company, for which it is just about a perfect project, with its small cast and modest set requirements.
The setup is of the simplest. Bernard the lothario has become engaged to marry not one nor two but three air hostesses (we call them stewardesses now that air travel isn’t glamorous any more). He is able to keep them all separate and unaware of each other thanks to the airline flight schedules, which ensure that each fiancee spends most of her time away from Paris. What could possibly go wrong? And sure enough it all collapses when Boeing develops a faster jet, and Bernard’s friend Robert comes to town. Suddenly all three ladies are in town at the same time, and the two men are forced to juggle an increasingly untenable situation which is all their own fault.
The cozy love nest rapidly disintegrates into a hurricane of slamming doors, disrobing women, and flying airline bags and pillows. Sexist, you say? Oh sure, but this was the Swingin’ Sixties, remember. Creaky? Undeniably. Unrealistic? In this day of United passengers being dragged out of planes, of course. A rigid and reliable airline schedule is as fantastic as a flying carpet.
But it’s undeniably fun. NextStop has itself a hit, staging this period piece with a modern snap. The air hostesses, in their colorful minidresses and matching air bags, are a hoot. Everybody’s physical comedy is delightful, and the brisk timing is perfect. I’m with Plato on this — comedy is indeed the equal of tragedy, in the theater!