Boeing-Boeing takes off, but does it soar?

The cast of “Boeing-Boeing” poses on set. From the top down, left to right: Lenny Lively as Robert Lambert, Cameron Freshour as Bernhard, Lexi Douglas as Gloria, Riley Hamant as Gretchen, Bailee Burleson as Gabriella, and Lily Potter as Berthe. Photo by Lauren McCarter

The nature of comedy is sometimes hard to grasp—especially when it has to be translated into our native tongue before we can understand what makes it funny.

The Maryville College Theater department recently completed its run of the French comedy “Boeing-Boeing” from Feb. 21-24, in the Haslam Flexible Theater, using a set and props rented from the Cumberland County Playhouse, who had recently put on their own showing of “Boeing-Boeing” only a few months prior.

The play tells the story of an American expat businessman in Paris named Bernard, played by sophomore theatre major, Cameron Freshour, who has three fiancées that are all airline stewardesses. Bernard is able to keep up this juggling act due to the fact that whenever one fiancée is in Paris, the other two are in the air, blissfully unaware of Bernard’s misdeeds.

This all changes when Bernard’s old school friend, Robert Lambert, played by senior Lenny Lively, arrives from Wisconsin while he’s in transit to his uncle in the French countryside.

Robert’s arrival, and the fact that the stewardesses are all being transferred to faster aircrafts and some weather issues, nearly leads to disaster if it wasn’t for Bernard and Robert skirting around the situation and keeping the stewardesses apart.

If the plot sounds convoluted, that’s because it is. The show is roughly three hours long, and the action is constantly moving primarily through dialogue. This means that actors are always talking, with very little room to breathe from scene to scene, and in some cases line to line.

My largest issue with the plot comes from the resolution. The term “Deus Ex Machina,” where a problem is solved by unexpected characters or events, applies greatly in this case.

The American stewardess Gloria, played by junior Lexi Douglas, who is on the brink of discovering Bernard’s web of lies, receives a letter from one of her own other lovers: a businessman she met on the Mexico route.

In the letter, he asks her to marry him and she agrees, which triggers her immediate flight from Paris and Bernard’s apartment. This leaves Bernard with Gabriella, the Italian stewardess, played by junior criminal justice major, Bailee Burleson, who has remained unaware of Bernard’s transgressions for the duration of the show.

Robert ends up with Gretchen, the German stewardess, played by sophomore Riley Hamant, who he was “wooing” throughout the show. I say “wooing” because the translated script doesn’t really shine in that regard. The romantic dialogue between Gretchen and Robert feels off, and makes the characters seem disjointed in how they first present themselves and what they end up saying and doing.

Berthe, Bernard’s somewhat frumpy French maid, played by freshman Lilly Potter, served the role of the audience-insert character. She’s quick to comment on the lunacy and absurdity of the situation and attempts to quit her job by the end of the show due to the situation spiraling so wildly out of hand.

Plot-issues aside, the play was extremely well acted. Freshour and Lively had good on-stage chemistry and played believable characters despite the unbelievability of the situation. Douglas, Burleson, and Hamant all played their roles well and did an excellent job differentiating the stewardesses from one-another.

Something to note is that the accents used by all the foreign characters were done well, and didn’t seem over the top or hammy, which can often happen when media derives humor from accented characters.

“Boeing-Boeing” was still an extremely enjoyable experience, despite my issues with the plot. It was well-acted, the set was well made, and the atmosphere provided by the sound-cues was on point to the setting they were attempting to convey.

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