The latest show to grace the Hart House Theatre stage is Marc Camoletti’s hilarious Boeing Boeing, a French play directed by Cory Doran and translated by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans.
The single-set farce takes place during the mid-20th century in the Paris apartment of womanizer Bernard (Brandon Gillespie), an American-born businessman who believes he’s discovered the secret to happiness: juggling multiple relationships at once.
When an old classmate named Robert (Andrei Preda) comes to visit Bernard, things quickly go awry as a series of flight cancellations and early landings find all three of Bernard’s secret fiancés — all flight stewardesses from different airlines — landing in Paris to spend the weekend with their “one and only” on the very same day. Robert, Bernard, and his sour-faced maid, Berthe (Jill McMillan), spend the majority of the play trying to weave all three girls in and out of the apartment without them noticing each other, in a desperate attempt to keep Bernard’s absurd scheme afloat.
The play’s incredibly comedic writing is matched only by the cast’s stellar performances. The show is packed to the brim with buffoonery, filled with clever and often crude humour yielding sidesplitting responses from the audience. The jokes that didn’t resonate — and there were a few — were likely due to my own obliviousness rather than the gag itself.
Truthfully, it’s hard to point out a cast member that steals the show, as each member of the six-person cast makes their own case for why they deserve special recognition. Brandon Gillespie’s Bernard is prone to freak-outs, despite his initially calm and collected demeanor.
Jill McMillan’s Berthe is the play’s closest thing to a rational thinker, delivering a myriad of one-liners and fair share of mild panic attacks. Eliza Martin and Katie Corbridge are Gloria and Gabriella, Bernard’s thickly accented brides-to-be from New York and Italy, respectively. Shalyn McFaul takes command of a lot of the show’s physical comedy as brutish German flight attendant and third fiancée, Gretchen.
Robert devolves quickly from the wholesome, straight-edge audience stand-in to perhaps the craziest of the lot by the end of the play. Perhaps Robert’s character is a reflection of the audience in more ways than their initially skeptical surrogate. The crowd slowly begins to accept throughout the play, much like Robert, the absurdity of the situation being presented on stage, finding himself encapsulated and feeling like an accomplice in this dilemma.
The play makes a compelling case for the power of having a live audience as well. In the program, director Cory Doran writes that the insanity of Boeing Boeing can’t be fully understood and appreciated without a sane audience sitting in total awe of these characters’ ridiculous decisions. In an age of digital streaming and private viewing, it’s unique and refreshing to find one’s own chuckles drowned out by the laughs of the surrounding crowd; Boeing Boeing delivers that rarity.
The opportunity to see a play that focuses on such an isolated yet extraordinary premise — especially one where two thirds of the roles are played by women, who are so rarely featured in lead comedic roles — should not be missed. Boeing Boeing is a show that feels right at home at Hart House Theatre, as its light hearted comedy and nature is sure to resonate with theatregoers young and old.
Boeing Boeing runs at Hart House Theatre until March 5.