Director - Robin Armstrong
Stage Manager - Callie Camp
Set Design - Clare Floyd Devries
Lighting Design - Jeff Stover
Costumes - Robin Armstrong
Props Design - Georgana Jinks
Bernard - Ashley Wood
Gloria - Sherry Hopkins
Bertha - Lulu Ward
Robert - Andy Baldwin
Gabriella - Emily Scott Banks
Gretchen - Morgan McClure
Reviewed Performance 6/2/2012
Reviewed by Danny Macchietto, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
I walked into WaterTower Theatre's Saturday evening performance of Boeing-Boeing with a sizable amount of skepticism. Not for the quality of the show, but for what production I would be seeing. The play originated as a door slamming French farce in 1960 and later turned into a hit film in 1965 with Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis. It had an unfortunate short stint on Broadway the same year, with a paltry 23 performances, but a 2008 Tony Award winning Broadway revival awakened the show to new interest.
So far, it seemed my research elicited standard expectations, but it caught my cynical eye when I recalled that Boeing-Boeing was previously produced by Circle Theatre to audience and critical acclaim in early 2011.
Both productions would share the same director, costume designer, set designer and five of the original six cast members. Was WaterTower Theatre trying to pull a fast one over its audience?
Was this a Circle Theatre play in WaterTower clothing? This concern wasn't only on my mind, along with several anonymous theatre friends and colleagues, but it was also heavy on the mind of director Robin Armstrong. Would the WaterTower patrons cry foul?
Recently I interviewed Ms. Armstrong in hopes of gaining perspective on transferring the production from Circle Theatre's cozy, three quarter basement-sized thrust stage to the expansive proscenium of the WaterTower. This logistical difference alone was enough to set the two productions apart. Armstrong emphasized the challenges the drastic change a new stage brought about, but was optimistic in her endeavor: "If you give Andy Baldwin and I a large stage to play with we are going to find a way to use every inch." Local actor Baldwin reprised his heralded performance as Robert, but more on him later.
A glimpse at the WaterTower's Boeing-Boeing blog does even more to wash away any notion that the original core of actor's might phone it in or become stale delivering the same jokes. It was clear that the actor's embraced the challenge of the large space with their infectious enthusiasm over new furniture pieces and a metal railing, not originally accessible at the Circle, as well as their exclamations of relief that they had not tired of the same ole' text and were still discovering new laughs just days before opening night.
Robin Armstrong certifies that this new production of Boeing-Boeing is very much the product of WaterTower Theatre and I whole-heartedly agree. The blood, sweat, and tears that went into creating this non-stop sex romp were felt in every second that an actor inhaled air.
The set-up to the farcical shenanigans that took place was a skillful wonder to behold. Bernard is a wealthy architect whom resides in Paris, France. At curtain's rise, he and his American, flight attendant fiance, Gloria, are enjoying some final moments together before she departs once again for her next flight. Very quickly, through phone messages and conversations with his maid, Bertha, we learn that Bernard has two other flight attendant fiances, one German, one Italian, and none of the three knows of the other two.
Enter Robert, played by the adroit Andy Baldwin, an old college friend of Bernard's. Bernard reveals to Robert his entire foolproof fiance itinerary: the scheduling, the screening, the timetables, the menus, the why, and how it managed to work so successfully up to that point. Robert looks at Bernard's plan with envy, as if he was marveling over the latest efficient model of the '68 Cadillac.
It is the timing of this exchange between Mr. Baldwin and Ashley Wood, playing Bernard, where Boeing-Boeing immediately takes off (just lost a bet with myself that I could write this whole review without resorting to any airplane lingo). Each line was carefully delivered with the same sort of delicate precision as the murderer's plan from a well-crafted thriller. Every logistical consideration that Bernard lists created an indelible promise for the perfect storm of comic possibilities. Director Robin Armstrong's gamed cast does not break a single one.
Ashley Wood as the overzealous suitor, Bernard, was charming and likeable, playing the straight man to Andy Baldwin's antics as Robert. Mr. Wood played it straight so well that a richly rewarding moment came when he delivered the evening's best double-triple take when Bernard finds that his 3-fiance schematic wasn't so fool-proof. Had I been watching the play on PBS, I would have rewound this scene several times over on the DVR.
The three fiances all inhabit their own unique charm, each one an extension of Bernard's diverse lover sensibility. Sherry Hopkins played the assertive and plucky Gloria from Texas. Emily Scott Banks played the passionate and sensual Italian, Gabriella. Morgan McClure played the dominant German, Gretchen.
Ms. Armstrong also revealed to me that the original actor's were required to re-audition for their parts. New to the cast was Lulu Ward as Bernard's maid Bertha. Ms. Ward seamlessly fit right into the mold of a very tight ensemble adding a spicy diversion to the bedroom high-jinks displayed by the men and the fiances. She was a marvel of verbal dexterity with her rapid fire delivery.
All of the performers were up to the challenge of keeping a straight face, as well as holding their own with the exuberant Andy Baldwin. Everyone in the cast had more than a handful of moments to shine, but Mr. Baldwin is the show's true star. Mr. Baldwin did not let his director down, and made comedic use of the entire stage and sprinkling the laughs everywhere with his uncompromising physical aerobics.
Clare Floyd Devries set design was clearly an actor's dream with plenty of open space interspersed with a variety of levels. It was perfectly suited to the 1960's swanky time period.
After having directed Boeing-Boeing twice, I asked Ms. Robin Armstrong if she would direct it a third time if given the chance. Without hesitation, Armstrong responded, "absolutely!" In talking to Ms. Armstrong it was apparent that this was one of the rare times where a director's overpowering enthusiasm for a production truly manifested itself onstage.
WaterTower Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison, TX 75001
Limited run through June 17th
Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays & Saturdays at
8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm, Special Saturday Matinee - June 16 at 2:00 pm
Tickets are $20 - $40
To purchase tickets call (972) 450-6232 or go to www.watertowertheatre.org .