Up in the Air

Boeing Boeing at LTW is a high-flying—and hilarious—French farce

One look at the stage, with its bright colors and doors galore, and you know what kind of play you'll be seeing at Live Theatre Workshop.

The cheerful color scheme is less telling than the half-dozen doors, of course. Squeezed next to each other in an illogical fashion, the doors are made for slamming. And sure enough, they get a vigorous workout in Boeing Boeing.

All that frantic coming and going and going and coming means a classic French farce is underway, and I'm happy to report that the overworked doors were up to the task on opening night. It's everything else that's completely unhinged, as the genre demands.

The well-oiled cast of six gets a splendid workout. Each of the actors will no doubt lose a pound or two before the run is done.

Marc Camoletti's bedroom comedy requires plenty of pratfalls, not to mention a zillion perfectly timed entrances and exits.

But it's not the physical comedy that makes this and every other farce so famously difficult to pull off. It's the stakes, which must be kept sky-high despite a story that is the definition of improbable.

Boeing Boeing, first staged in the early 1960s, takes us into a Parisian flat where a would-be Lothario named Bernard (Rick Shipman) thinks, despite all evidence to the contrary, that he's slicker than oil. He is simultaneously engaged to three curvaceous stewardesses, though he plans to remain a bachelor forever.

Each of his fiancées works for a different airline and has the accent to prove it.

Gloria (Candace Bean), a dingbat who puts ketchup on her pancakes, is American. Gabriella (Janet Roby), forever gesticulating and hyperventilating, is Italian. And Gretchen (Cyndi LaFrese, the best of the bunch), more intense than a world war, is German.

Bernard shares the apartment with all three, though not at the same time. As he explains to his old friend Robert (Keith Wick), who has dropped in from Wisconsin for a visit, a collision course can be successfully avoided provided he has the latest airline timetables. While one gal is landing, another is taking off. With some basic planning, he keeps them all in his bed and up in the air.

Bernard is aided and abetted by his surly housekeeper Bertha (Amanda Gremel, so, so good), who is forever changing menus and swapping out bedside photos.

But despite all the ridiculously hard work—and before you can say "Coffee, tea or me?"—Bernard's high-flying world hits sustained turbulence. It will be, as they say, a bumpy night.

Naturally, none of this makes a lick of sense. But, as with any decent farce, the action is too fast and furious for us to care. It's not that we are asked to believe the unbelievable. We just have to believe that they believe it—and at LTW, we do.

Director Stephen Frankenfield, who must be an expert choreographer as well, has assembled a cast that successfully keeps all the balls in the air. These six actors achieve something close to seamless, even when their animated acting comes perilously close to plain old overacting. The energy never sags, and even the most odd and random touches (I'm looking at you, Mr. Wick) hit comedic pay dirt.

By the time it reaches optimal cruising altitude, Boeing Boeing (the most-performed French play in the world, according to Guinness World Records) inspires belly laugh after belly laugh. Its two-hour running time zips by in a flash.

Boeing Boeing has seen a resurgence since an acclaimed production hit Broadway about five years ago. The rapturously reviewed show won the 2009 Tony Award for best revival of a play. It was staged just a few months ago at the University of Arizona's Arizona Repertory Theatre.

I didn't see either of those productions, so I can't tell you how Live Theatre Workshop's stacks up in comparison. But with Keith Wick leading the way (his Robert is a demented cross between Pee-wee Herman and a Marx brother), this Boeing Boeing is tons of fun.

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