"Precision is the key," Bernard explains as the reason he's able to juggle trysts with three flight attendants in Marc Camoletti's 1962 farce Boeing-Boeing. And in any successful production of it, such as the one at Circle Theatre, directed by Robin Armstrong, precision is certainly key.
That's true of any sex farce when there are comings and goings through multiple doorways, but in Boeing-Boeing, there needs to be extra special attention to the timing of physical comedy and line delivery. With Circle's on-their-toes cast, an air traffic controller couldn't have calculated it better.
Bernard (Ashley Wood) is a British man living in Paris. He’s an architect, but being a lady-killer is the job he’s best suited for. He has worked out the airline schedules so that he can spend quality in-the-sack time with three flight attendants (back in 1968, when this production is set, it was OK to call them "stewardess") without each of them knowing about the other two. While one is taking off on the runway, another is taking it off at Bernard's.
They are spicy Italian Gabriella (Emily Scott Banks), a character that was French in the original play; German goddess Gretchen (Morgan McClure); and American Southern belle Gloria (Sherry Hopkins).
When his friend Robert (Andy Baldwin) visits, and weather conditions cause all three flying-flings to be in Paris at the same time—this is a play, after all—there's mayhem in Bernie's international house of pancontinental mates. The only sane character, Bernard's housekeeper Bertha (Krista Scott), poor dear, gets mixed up in the fray.
Bernard and his sexual escapades would reappear a few years after Boeing-Boeing premiered, in Camoletti's Don't Dress for Dinner, which has received a good workout on local stages in recent years (McClure was just in Theatre Arlington's production, which Baldwin directed; and Wood was in Theatre Three's). Boeing-Boeing, which has had acclaimed revivals in London and on Broadway in the past five years, is much funnier.
That's probably because the very thing that makes this kind of farce funny—timing—is cleverly worked into the plot, such as it is. Anyone who works in the flight industry is a slave to precise timing. One part of it goes off schedule, and watch the dominoes fall.
Director Armstrong also does costume duty, and like Circle's Bach at Leipzig last year, in which Armstrong was director and costumer, it all comes together beautifully. The '60s flight attendant uniforms are of an era when skirts were tight and/or short, and sassy boots gave them a look that belonged more on a fashion runway than on an airport one. Clare Floyd DeVries' set gives us numerous doorways, as called for, and never mind that in Circle's small space, some of those rooms would have to be hallway-thin to make sense.
This ain't the kind of theater that needs to make much sense, just enough to keep us engaged and laughing. Scott does that with her underplaying and a French accent that doesn't get into ridiculous Pepe le Pew territory, as French accents by American actors tend to do. Wood makes a perfectly charming cad; there's no doubt he'd be capable of juggling several honeys at once.
Of the flight attendants, Banks gives the most realized character, but they're all having a ball with the flirting and the accents. And they all have believable chemistry with Wood.
This is clearly Baldwin's show, though. He's consistently one of the area's best physical comedians (his only rival would be Jeff Swearingen, whom Baldwin directed in Dinner), and while the in-and-outs—of doorways—are the meat of this farce, Robert's antics while he's covering for his friend are the show's comic gold. Baldwin, sporting a hilarious little moustache, makes them even juicier than they should be.
He's the kind of wingman everybody needs.