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Center Stage

‘Boeing Boeing’ is a much-needed farce

5/21/2014

“Boeing Boeing” shows at the Des Moines Community Playhouse May 23 – June 8.

“Boeing Boeing” shows at the Des Moines Community Playhouse May 23 – June 8.

Half an hour into a late rehearsal for “Boeing Boeing,” after the cast had run through a couple of scenes, Des Moines Playhouse Director Kathy Pingel announced it was time to tackle the entire play from the start.

“Ready to rock ‘n’ roll?” she shouted.

Michael Davenport, in the lead role of Bernard, stuck out an arm, grabbing the neck of an air guitar. His other arm wind-milled over an imaginary power chord — the right spirit for a farce driven by testosterone.

“Boeing Boeing” depicts the sexual roundelay of a Parisian playboy, Bernard, back about 1960. In those days, a flight attendant was still a “stewardess.” Airline timetables, along with a quick-witted maid, allow Bernard to juggle three “fiancées,” one each on Lufthansa, Alitalia and TWA. His fantasy, however, never foresaw the complications of a storm over the Atlantic. His German, Italian and New York girls all get rerouted, his old pal Robert drops in unexpectedly, and even the maid can’t keep it all straight. The best thing this Lothario has going for him is an apartment with plenty of places to hide.

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“We gave him six doors in the set,” says Pingel, grinning. “You could have as many as seven.”

The arrangement is another of Tim Wisgeroth’s spectaculars. Its green walls and white trim were even more eye-popping with the era’s neon-bright accessories, including a Calder mobile runs over the dining table. But the action needs to pop as well. It does, as lovers and friends erupt from one door and disappear behind another “at full speed,” says Pingel.

“That’s farce,” she goes on. “A good one works like a Swiss clock. When that little cuckoo comes out, it’s a surprise.

A girl raised on old Warner Brothers cartoons (Pingel admitted) loves this stuff, and she’s often directed it. Davenport, as the cad Bertrand, finds the material a relief. It “cuts away the nuances,” he said, and allows him to indulge in what he calls “bubble-gum theater.”

That’s an important genre, actually. Pingel takes pride in introducing a couple of her players to such shenanigans, particularly Jordyn Shipley as the New Yorker. Both the director and Davenport also point out that farce is as old as theater itself, and a mainstay over in Europe.

Indeed, “Boeing Boeing” was written by a Frenchmen and, while popular in London, never achieved U.S. success until this rapid-fire adaptation came to Broadway in 2008. Now it’s everywhere, with a production in Ames this February. For the Playhouse, it makes the perfect palate-cleanser after the tragic opera of “Les Miserables.”

“It’s spring,” Pingel pointed out. “Everyone’s ready to let go of heavy emotions.”

Rock ‘n’ roll.

Overheard in the Lobby: This production will be Tim Wisgerhof’s last for the Playhouse. CV               

John Domini is Cityview’s “Play Mate” theater critic who pens our weekly Center Stage column. He is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.

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