There is an old show business adage about the aging actor on his deathbed who was visited in the hospital by a friend who sympathized, “It must be difficult what you’re going through.”
The terminal thespian responds, “No, dying is easy; comedy is hard.”
That universal truth is being disproven nightly at the Betty Greenberg Center for Performing Arts as director Donny Avery makes it look easy with an attractive and expert cast in the BCP production of “Boeing, Boeing.” There is a thriving local theater scene in Southeast Texas, but no production in recent memory has delivered nonstop delight to its audiences as this slapstick comedy that is as funny as it is improbable.
The play is based on a creaky premise, a typical sex farce of the 1960s. In fact, it was written in French in 1960, translated into English in 1961, and enjoyed multi-year runs in Paris and London. It didn’t fare as well in the U.S., closing on Broadway after 23 performances. A lackluster 1965 film version starring Tony Curtis was mounted by producer Hal Wallis and directed by Jim Rich in between shooting two Wallis-produced films starring Elvis Presley.
The story is formulaic: Swinging bachelor Bernard couldn’t be happier with a flat in Paris and three gorgeous stewardesses all engaged to him without knowing about each other. But Bernard’s perfect life gets bumpy when his friend Robert comes to stay and a new and speedier Boeing jet throws off all of his careful planning. Soon, all three stewardesses are in town simultaneously – and hilarity ensues.
It is impossible to overstate Avery’s accomplishment here. Usually in community theatre productions, the quality of acting in an ensemble cast varies wildly, but the actors here are uniformly excellent. Michael Saar as Bernard’s long-lost friend Robert from Wisconsin adds a layer of sweetness to a confused character, and Rachel Cain as the long-suffering maid Berthe may have a questionable French accent, but there is no question about her comedic gifts.
The three stewardess characters work for TWA, Alitalia and Lufthansa with their uniforms and props rendered in vivid primary colors – red, blue and yellow, respectively. Genevieve Brassard as the American Gloria convincingly portrays a dewy-eyed ingénue who may not be as naïve as she seems. Andrea Garcia flies for Alitalia and invests her role with passion and beauty. Grace Mathis’ take on the Lufthansa stewardess Gretchen is enlivened with a harsh accent more suited to a guard in a German women-in-prison movie like “Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS” but soon gives way to a certain vulnerability that is quite beguiling. All three women deliver unforgettable star turns, and you can’t take your eyes off them when they are on stage.
But the glue that holds this show together is Chad Petersen. His Bernard recalls a Matthew Perry-esque character with the supreme confidence of a man in the catbird seat who is forcefully disabused of that notion in scene after scene of comeuppance. Petersen laughs, he cries – mostly he cries – with his face a rubber mask of anxiety and grief. Along with Saar, he flies across the stage in a deft series of slapstick set-pieces that often end with them sprawled in a couch or chair with a female cast member on top of them.
The Beaumont Community Players have a hit on their hands. “Boeing, Boeing” runs through Nov. 2. Check it out – you won’t spend a more enjoyable evening in the theater this year.