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UA’s 'Boeing, Boeing' takes off with successful slapstick
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Arizona Repertory Theatre

UA’s 'Boeing, Boeing' takes off with successful slapstick

Commedia dell’arte tradition enriches '60s comedy

  • Bernard (Parker Janecek) & Robert (Michael Calvoni) attempt to forcibly remove Italian stewardess, Gabriella (Carli Naff), from Bernard’s apartment in order to keep the other fiancée stewardesses from finding out about her in UA Arizona Repertory Theatre’s production of 'Boeing, Boeing.'
    Ed Flores/Arizona Repertory TheatreBernard (Parker Janecek) & Robert (Michael Calvoni) attempt to forcibly remove Italian stewardess, Gabriella (Carli Naff), from Bernard’s apartment in order to keep the other fiancée stewardesses from finding out about her in UA Arizona Repertory Theatre’s production of 'Boeing, Boeing.'
  • Robert (Michael Calvoni) helps his best friend, Bernard (Parker Janecek), try to escape from his German fiancée, Gretchen (Samantha Lideen).
    Ed Flores/Arizona Repertory TheatreRobert (Michael Calvoni) helps his best friend, Bernard (Parker Janecek), try to escape from his German fiancée, Gretchen (Samantha Lideen).
  • Robert (Michael Calvoni) can’t believe he just walked in on the debauchery of his buddy Bernard (Parker Janecek) with American stewardess, Gloria (Silvia Vannoy).
    Ed Flores/Arizona Repertory TheatreRobert (Michael Calvoni) can’t believe he just walked in on the debauchery of his buddy Bernard (Parker Janecek) with American stewardess, Gloria (Silvia Vannoy).

Though it wallows in cultural values of the early 1960s, Arizona Repertory Theatre’s season opener, “Boeing, Boeing” actually mines a deeper past – the commedia dell’arte tradition of 15th century Italy. The University of Arizona production demonstrates how significantly our values and perceptions have shifted in 50 years, as well as how timeless good slapstick is.

The world of 1960 was a very different place. After World War II, there was broader exposure and exchange among foreign cultures. Traditional values were being challenged in numerous ways. Technological innovations were changing lifestyles.

Come fly with me

Among that technology was the Boeing 707, the first commercial jet airliner, ushering in a new age of transportation with not only its speed, but with its sleek, swept-wing modernity.

Morally, the first tendrils of the sexual revolution were breaking the concrete. Playboy magazine was a harbinger of a new sophisticated, hedonistic lifestyle. Sexual activity was suddenly not quite so taboo.

“Boeing, Boeing” by Marc Camoletti first appeared in 1960 and went on to become the most performed French play in the world. Set in a Paris apartment, the light farce explores the impact of early arrival times on the love life of playboy Bernard. He is juggling three international stewardesses (as they were called when the job was exclusively held by women) in near-polygamy as simultaneous fiancés whose flight schedules insure they are never in the same place at the same time. That balance is threatened by the faster jet engines of the new Boeing 707.

Respecting the Playboy philosophy

Of course in 1960, the rules of engagement in the battle of the sexes were different – rather than being considered a devious cad or worse, there was a certain sly admiration for a man sophisticated enough to seduce and maintain such a harem.

Despite its modernist aspects, “Boeing, Boeing” is rooted in commedia dell’arte through to its stock characters and physical comedy. In addition to horny Bernard, there is his country bumpkin friend, Robert (from Wisconsin in the English translation), wide-eyed at Bernard’s urbane Parisian lifestyle. The stereotypes take a nationalist turn with the play’s four women. Bernard’s three innamorati (lovers) are differentiated by country of origin: United States, Italy and Germany. Bernard’s maid, Berthe, represents France and also the zanni (wily servant) stock character.

Color-coded country guide

The women’s color-coded national stereotypes show the dated values of the show. German Gretchen (green Lufthansa uniform) is buxom and dines on sauerkraut and frankfurters; sleek Italian Gabriella (navy blue Alitalia uniform) is fiery and prefers saltimbocca; Texan Gloria (red TWA uniform) is kittenish with a taste for fried chicken. Berthe wears black. A canny mercenary, she requires frequent cash incentives to manage Bernard’s air traffic control problems, as his carefully crafted timetables disintegrate.

Director and UA theatre faculty member Brent Gibbs, who specializes in teaching stage combat, gives the production a very effective physical aspect, aided by students who ably embrace the rigors of slapstick.

Foremost is Michale Calvoni as bumpkin Robert. Over the course of the play he is repeatedly tossed and tumbled across the set’s central couch, often with sexual connotations, as these (slightly) liberated women explore their own freedom with kisses both accidental and experimental. As he demonstrated last year starring in UA’s Avenue Q, Calvoni is a disciplined comedic performer with a wide range of talents and a hint of Jimmy Stewart.

Sammie Lideen in a blond wig also stands out as the uber-fetchin’ Gretchen. Having impressed last year as the haughty Dark Queen in UA’s delightful “Cymbeline,” (also directed by Gibbs), here she skillfully whipsaws her temperamental responses, switching from combative to cooing (and back again) in a flash to hilarious effect.

Parker Janecek embraces a cool playboy vibe as Bernard, until he goes manic amid the multiple mix-ups and near misses as his fiancés converge. Lindsay Mony as the the eye-rolling servant, Berthe, Carli Naff as Gabriella and Silvia Vannoy as Gloria all give rollicking performances with precise timing, crucial for making this type of comedy effective. Lideen, Mony, Naff and Vannoy also get extra credit for consistent mastery of their respective accents, courtesy of dialect coach and UA professor Kevin Black.

Looking good

Also of note is Taryn Wintersteen’s set design for her senior capstone project. Her Paris apartment has both a period feel and just enough room for the actors to literally comfortably run around, while implying a much bigger space. Costume designer Sandahl Masson has fun with the details: period uniforms/flight bags; Bernard’s matching ascot and pocket square; lingerie that is sexy without risking a wardrobe malfunction.

“Boeing, Boeing” is dated in its stereotypes, but still a lot of fun, especially when it’s madcap comedy is so well executed. Kudos to the Arizona Repertory Theatre on a great start to another season.

If you go

  • What: “Boeing, Boeing,” presented by UA’s Arizona Repertory Theatre
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 3-5; Friday and Saturday, Oct. 10-11; Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 5 only; Sundays at 1:30 p.m. through Oct. 13,
  • Where: The Marroney Theatre, UA Campus, 1025 N. Olive Ave., southeast of the corner of Speedway and Park Avenue.
  • Tickets: $28 reserved seats; Students $19; senior, UA employee and military discounts also available. Tickets available at the UA Fine Arts Box Office, 621-1162 and online at theatre.arizona.edu.

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