Monday, March 13, 2017

Knock, knock, who's there: The madcap romantic intrigue of IRT's 'Boeing Boeing'

The spacious, well-appointed set Vicki Smith has provided for "Boeing Boeing"  conveys the impression of cultured, calm
What a playground! The set of "Boeing Boeing" is redolent of au courant living.
modern living. It turns out the spaciousness is a clue not only to the occupant's high-end status in life, but also to the room needed for the physical action taking place there, complete with strategically placed doors.

Indiana Repertory Theatre got its production of the Marc Camoletti comedy going over the weekend, and the cavorting typical of farce gets the needed room to romp. The Calder mobile suspended from the apartment ceiling is the show's least mobile element.

As seen at Sunday's matinee, there was no let-up in the high pitch of both dialogue and movement in the story of a wealthy bachelor's scheme for keeping alive liaisons with three "air hostesses" — each of whom thinks she's his fiancee.

Matt Schwader is Bernard, the raffish bachelor, who finds his romantic spinning-plates act upset by changing international airline schedules and unforeseen in-flight difficulties. That alone modernizes the story, which is set in Paris of the early 1960s.

Robert and Bernard share their delight in Bernard's cleverness.
The story is told as tastefully as possible, with its amoral sexual adventurism filtered through the shrug of French sensibility. The disapproval registered by Berthe, Bernard's French maid, rests on the grounds of nerve-rattling inconvenience, not the scheme's impropriety. She must adjust meal preparation on a moment's notice to suit the nationalist appetites of her boss's American, Italian, and German girlfriends, who have been stunningly and distinctly outfitted in Mathew LeFebvre's period-true uniforms.

This is part of the tradition of farce, as is running the genre's comic complications through the wringer of the protagonist's
mother wit: Thinking fast is more important than thinking well. The disaster waiting in the wings is always itching to steal the show. It's staved off for a while with the help of Bernard's old friend Robert, loyal and resourceful despite his endearing clumsiness. It helps that Robert, an old-fashioned Wisconsinite on the loose in Paris, is somewhat envious of Bernard's juggling act, being himself on the lookout for close female companionship.

Bernard's stewardess stew is turned down to a palatable simmer by the end. It's a credit to Laura Gordon's direction that the concoction threatens to boil over throughout. Schwader's voice and movement vary between playboy self-assurance and shrill desperation, but he still effects a contrast with the flibbertigibbety desperation of his buddy, whose portrayal by Chris Klopatek had the antic supplement of virtuosic physical comedy.

The anxious Gretchen puts the squeeze on Berthe.
Aspects of that skill were occasionally evident throughout the cast. The touch of movement and fight coordinator Rob Johansen was clear: the appearance of throwing oneself into a comic role, skirting physical danger and maximizing laughs, never stinted. He's been up to that mark himself when wearing his actor's cap. Just as scrupulously, the four distinctive accents (plus mainstream American) sounded well-honed under the guidance of vocal and dialect coach Kathy Logelin.

Because of Berthe's continual presence onstage, Elizabeth Ledo was put under the most extensive strain to sound authentic. She winningly supplemented the accent with skeptical grimaces, faint sneers, and double takes on a spectrum that went all the way up to Bernard's getting on her last nerve.

It's hard to overestimate the commanding effect of Hillary Clemens as Gloria, who reflects the playwright's view of American curiosity, feminism, and wretched taste in food. The same pitch-perfect quality went into Greta Wohlrabe's stentorian command of the ostensibly proper but deeply lustful Gretchen, a Lufthansa Valkyrie. And Melisa Pereyra's fiery, suspicious Gabriella applied consistent pressure to Bernard's artful deceptions.

"We are experiencing some slight turbulence, so the captain has turned on the seat-belt sign" is among the cliche communications common in the occupation now called flight attendant. "Boeing Boeing" experiences extreme turbulence, yet makes a smooth landing. Along the way, a seat belt would only constrict your belly laughter. It's time for a little wing-walking, people!


[Photos by Zach Rosing]