On February 26, Hart House Theatre opened its doors for opening night of Boeing Boeing. This is also the last play of the 2015/16 season, opening on the same stage that brought We the Family and Hamlet to U of T.
Boeing Boeing was originally written in French, set in 1960s Paris. The story follows a young architect who keeps three fiancées as a harem. The repeated “Boeing” in the title refers to their professions as flight attendants on three separate airlines.
As the audience shuffled in, the inside of a Paris apartment stood on stage, furnished with a marble minibar, a coffee table, leather seats, and an unusually large painting of the Eiffel Tower. A wall with five doors took up most of the stage. Two more doorways to the immediate left and right of the stage gave the set the feel of a luxurious apartment.
The stage was illuminated with bright yellow light as a man in a suit with neatly-cropped hair began to walk around the apartment rhythmically to upbeat music. A girl sporting a pink nightgown came out of the double doors, greeting the man with a kiss. Lastly, a maid entered from the right doorway, upstage, exclaiming her annoyance with a sigh, timed to the sigh of the singer in the music. Altogether a great opening.
When the music stops, the couple sit down to breakfast and we find out that the girl in the nightgown is Gloria (Eliza Martin), an American with a thick New York accent. But she is only the first in a line of three brightly-dressed, yellow, blue, and green flight attendants that Bernard (Brandon Gillespie) keeps on his schedule.
The play unravels as Robert Lambert (Andrei Preda), an old goofy school friend of Bernard’s from Wisconsin, shows up while passing through Paris to visit his uncle. When Gloria leaves for her flight, Bernard explains that he is engaged to three flight attendants who fly different routes on different airlines. He describes this as “the perfect number”. Berthe (Jill McMillan), Bernard’s sassy, stressed out, middle-aged French maid interrupts him multiple times, complaining about how “everyone is always coming and going” around the apartment.
Berthe’s makeup is extremely well done. On first glance, I was absolutely convinced that she was played by a middle-aged woman. The only betrayal was that McMillan’s headshot in the program looked nothing at all like her on-stage character.
Halfway into the first act of the play, Gretchen (Shalyn McFaul)—Bernard’s German girl—arrives eight hours early. What comes next is a hilarious, stressful, and fast-paced series of scenes as Robert, Bernard, and Berthe attempt to navigate between Gretchen and Gabriella (Kate Corbridge)—the Italian.
The few moments before intermission were especially agitating. Robert, panicky and awkward, ran circles around the apartment and told Gabriella wild lies to keep her away from the master bedroom, where Gretchen rested. He told Gabriella that the master bedroom was promised to him by Bernard, that he had unpacked already, and that he would be embarrassed to have a beautiful girl like Gabriella see his belongings. Bernard was clueless until he opened the bedroom for himself. This lead to a hilarious moment of realization in which Bernard proclaimed “oh my God” in high falsetto.
The hallmark of the entire play would have to be the doors of the apartment. When one fiancée enters the room, the other one leaves almost simultaneously. The suspense of watching these moments kept me on edge.
The apartment was divided into a lower and a higher level with the use of a low stage. This might seem like a random feature, but it gave the set a greater depth of dimension, noticeable when Robert bounds up and down the set to stop one fiancée or another from entering a room.
The second act opens with a dim blue glow on a dark set, followed by blue lighting behind the apartment, indicating that night has descended. Gloria arrives, revealing that her flight was delayed. She kisses Robert multiple times “for practice”, after telling him that his mouth looks like a little flower when he says, “It’s not impossible.” What follows is another set of door-slamming mayhem followed by Gabriella’s and Bernard’s arrival back to the apartment.
After another round of anxiety, Bernard attempts to run from the apartment but Robert drags him back and pins him to the marble bar. An opportune moment for a scene of homoerotic comedy—which is exactly what happened.
Late into the second act, the unspeakable occurs: Gabriella and Gretchen meet. Rather than confessing the truth, Bernard passes off Gretchen, who is now in love with Robert, as Robert’s fiancée. And Gloria leaves, admitting that she’s engaged to two other men, one of whom just made his first million. Bernard and Robert are made to sleep in the living room by their fiancées since they will soon be married. The two men stumble to the chairs, pillows and champagne in hand. Robert asks Bernard to say, “It’s not impossible,” to which he weighs in on the shape of Bernard’s lips. Robert replies, “It doesn’t look like a flower to me.”
The entire cast performed exceptionally, especially Martin, McMillan, Corbridge, and McFaul, who kept consistent accents throughout with no hint of faltering. The costumes were well designed and kept the scene as animated as the writing. Preda and Gillespie’s chemistry on stage was genuinely fun to watch.
Boeing Boeing is a fun, exciting, panic-inducing play and its performance at Hart House this winter was a perfect way to finish off the season. Boeing Boeing runs until March 5.