Playwright Marc Camoletti's best-known play is the sex farce Boeing-Boeing, and it initially hit a nerve with British and French audiences during the Swinging Sixties.
The newly-popular sexual comedy genre swiftly gained momentum. European countries during this epoch embraced the radical transformation of prior social taboos and the play's openly amorous humor. London's Apollo Theater staging of Boeing-Boeing enjoyed a seven-year, 2,000-performance run that closed in 1969. It never really caught on in America, though, until a 2008 Broadway revival, and since then, lots of people are noticing it.
Theater Tulsa's production of Boeing-Boeing zeroes in on American businessman-turned-serial-philanderer Bernard (Jared Kopp) living in Paris. Bernard carefully shuffles his rendezvous with his exotic stewardess fiancées (yes, that's plural) Gloria, Gabriella, and Gretchen, corresponding to their flight schedules. The flight attendants collectively believe in Bernard's fidelity, since each individual knows nothing of the other two. He relies on his trusty housekeeper to help maintain his ruse. Unfortunately for Bernard, the state-of-the-art Boeing jet flies faster than his brain functions. A hilarious hurly-burly ensues with the unforeseen arrival of both the unsuspecting trio and his boyhood friend.
Director Vern Stefanic described the fly-by-night happenstance as a "typical format for comic absurdity. People think they are creating their own worlds, and get everything exactly how they want it," he said. "Then, it all just goes crazy and falls apart. This guy thinks he's got it great because he's engaged to three beautiful women. Then it all comes crashing down."
Seven doors prove to be the foundation of the set. The thresholds intensify the complicated chaos between Bernard and the juggled lovers, while raising crowd anticipation to a full-blown fever pitch. Boeing-Boeing provides an exciting element with its set choice, since the audience never knows who will appear in any one of the portals. Stefanic delighted in the mysterious stage props. "The fun of [the doors] is that the actors come so close to being caught. We never know who's going to come out. We always wonder, 'Will this be the moment when they get caught?'" Stefanic alludes to other prop usage as well, albeit for completely different purposes. "There's a couch that probably comes into play," he laughed.
While Bernard's whirlwind scenario appears outlandishly unlikely to occur in real-world circumstances, the audience can still relate to his situation in more ways than meets the eye.
Theater Tulsa sets the mood for Boeing-Boeing by taking the caricature out of the characters, not necessarily the situations. Stefanic explained this approach's intention as reflecting the roles in a more true to life nature.
"What it does is try to keep Boeing-Boeing very honest," he said. "I think character-driven comedy is much funnier than slapstick routines. When a play is character-driven, there's something about the characters in which we have to connect with what they're going through. When it becomes outrageous on the character's behalf, that is what's funny. At the core of all of this, the characters come from real places."
Translated from the original French by Beverly Cross, the English version of Boeing makes a conscious effort in allowing the positive dimensions of the play's characters to shine through. The 1960s setting leads to an abundance of professional and gender stereotyping regarding the fiancées. Stefanic attributed the earlier time period as an influence on the decidedly sexist undertone of Boeing-Boeing. The play takes advantage of the often pigeonholed, "provocative" stewardess career. At the same time, the underlying misogynistic element remains a piece of the production's nostalgic charm.
"When [the play] was written, there was nothing retro about it. When the show was revived a few years ago, it all of a sudden had different dynamics," Stefanic said. "It's kind of fun to look back at now. We look back to this quaint era of when we had stereotypical views not just of women, but sexual relationships. But it takes on a whole new comic flavor now, and you don't have to change a word of the script."
Boeing-Boeing closes out Theater Tulsa's 2012-2013, and Stefanic said he's just happy to be directing. Readers may remember learning of the dire financial straits the troupe found itself in when current Artistic Director Sara Phoenix took over--a pile of debt and that's about it. But TT has been doing quality work under Phoenix's able hands, and they're sticking around.
"It's another feather in the cap of Theater Tulsa that they were able to want to do this show, and get the opportunity to do this show," Stefanic said. "That's pretty remarkable, especially for them to make this the anchor of the season."
And he's proud of his show.
"Come to the theater. Be entertained," he said. "We want people to laugh and have a very good time. What we're doing is taking real people, putting them in funny situations, and letting that drive the show."
Theater Tulsa presents Boeing-Boeing in the Liddy Doenges Theater at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. 2nd St., May 10-11 and May 16-18 at 8pm. The May 12 performance is a 2pm matinee. The show is intended for mature audiences only. General admission tickets are $18 with student and senior discounts and can be purchased at the Second Street box office, by phone at 918-596-7111, or through tulsapac.com.
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