Boing Boing Clunk

Boeing-Boeing at the Old Globe: the title sounds like someone bouncing on a trampoline, which actually describes the French farce, if the bouncers are Boeing jets taking off and landing at Orly Airport and deplaning a steady stream of “air hostesses” at Bernard’s door.

Bernard, as the saying goes, “has it all,” in triplicate. The American architect’s got plush Parisian digs, plus a country home at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where the Seine makes a tree-lined loop and the wealthy frolic. He’s engaged to Gloria, a stewardess for TWA who adores him. And life, as the saying goes, is good.

You’d think. But Bernard doesn’t. Stemming from some unnamed need — he’s so shallow you’ll never know — Bernard has three fiancées: Gloria; Gabriella, an Italian hostess for Alitalia; and Gretchen, a German “stew” for Lufthansa. Like an air-traffic controller, he coordinates their visits. A timetable tells who’s in town when. Should duplications occur, the country home handles layovers. Bernard gleefully describes the “mathematical precision” needed to keep all three in the air. He sounds, in fact, more in love with the Euclidean logistics than with any of the women.

Bernard’s in control, he boasts to Robert, a long-lost friend (and, as a country bumpkin from Wisconsin, the first of the play’s rampantly stereotyped characters). If he isn’t a virgin, Robert at least acts like one. His driven-snow innocence ropes him into a game where he will become — much to his surprise and ours — a key player.

The women are empty-headed stereotypes: Gloria, the American, roars with over-the-top hoo-rah; Gabriella, the Italian, is, you guessed it, hot-blooded; and German Gretchen waxes Wagnerian at the slightest cue, sometimes even before.

Three lovers, no waiting. Boeing-Boeing runs almost three hours and plods much more than it produces laughs (the 90-minute first act is one long setup; Act 2 has more down time than up). Plus, the book never confronts its premise head on. You never see all three women entering or exiting at once. The trio of stewardesses suggests a steeplechase. So do the set’s eight doors. But the book only juggles, at best, two at a time, and its resolution’s as facile as they come. Nonetheless, the 2008 revival won a Tony.

For that staging, Matthew Warchus set the play somewhere in the 1960s (at the Old Globe it’s difficult to pinpoint where: the music’s late ’50s–early ’60s; beehive hairdos are early ’60s, while the Mod costumes and color schemes are mid to late). This isn’t the ’60s of protest and political assassinations and Vietnam; it’s a Neverland of pastels and slow jet planes. Most theater looks back at the ’50s as a time of innocence. Warchus throws the ’60s into that mix.

We may need a new category to account for Boeing-Boeing’s appeal. A “period” piece replicates the details, moods, and mindset of an era. A “dated” piece is one that’s outmoded. Boeing-Boeing combines the two. The sexist, screwball farce is a dated period piece — “cult classics” often fall into this grouping.

The play is intermittently funny. More interesting, at least to me, is how the cast fully commits to roles — and a broad style of acting — that would drive their teachers and PC friends up a wall. Liv Rooth plays Gloria like a Texas cheerleader on ecstasy; Stephanie Fieger’s Gabriella and especially Caralyn Kozlowski’s frog-throated (and terrific) Gretchen begin scenes, emotionally, where most would fear to end them (as the dour maid, however, Nancy Robinette never found a useful point of attack). Rob Breckenridge’s Bernard — he of the Playboy foldout mentality, which is Boeing-Boeing’s actual ’60s “territory” — has an appropriate comeuppance. Joseph Urla’s Robert almost steals the show. As scenes progress, the Wisconsin innocent becomes Stan Laurel (even his hair sprouts Laurelesque spikes) doing a crash course in assertiveness training.

Ion Theatre has found a home. The space, known formerly as [email protected] and Compass Theatre, is now the BLKBOX — “black box” — where, if their inaugural production’s an indication, Ion can finally stop having to click its heels three times.

Elliot, a Solider’s Fugue is a taut chamber piece. Like the contrapuntal musical composition, the play states main themes followed by “voices,” in this case of three generations of soldiers in a Puerto Rican family: Grandpop, who played the flute at Incheon, during the Korean War; Pop, who fought in Vietnam; and young Elliot, wounded in Iraq.

Someone said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.” The Ortiz family, including Pop’s wife Ginny, is both close and far apart, since the elder men never shared their war stories with Elliot, who replicates his father’s experience almost exactly.

Under Sylvia Enrique’s subtle direction, monologues meld and tug apart, as in a fugue. Goyo Flores and John Padilla — members of the sorely missed Latino Ensemble of San Diego — give Grandpop and Pop hard-edged, disillusioned dignity; Steven Lone blazes as gung-ho Elliot; and San Diego newcomer Miriam White shines as Ginny, wife, nurse, and compulsive gardener, who exclaims, “When your son goes to war, plant every goddamn seed you can find…let green things run wild.”

Boeing-Boeing by Marc Camoletti and Beverley Cross, reimagined by Matthew Warchus
Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park
Directed by Mark Schneider; cast: Liv Rooth, Rob Breckenridge, Nancy Robinette, Joseph Urla, Stephanie Fieger, Caralyn Kozlowski; scenic and costume design, Rob Howell; lighting design, Chris Rynne; sound, Paul Peterson; original music, Claire van Kampen
Playing through April 18; Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Matinee Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-234-5623.

Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Ion Theatre, 3704 Sixth Avenue, Hillcrest
Directed by Sylvia Enrique; cast; Goyo Flores, Steven Lone, John Padilla, Miriam White; scenic design, Matt Scott; costumes, Shulamit Nelson; lighting and sound, Claudio Raygoza
Playing through April 17; Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. Friday at 8:00 p.m. Matinee Saturday at 4:00 p.m. 619-600-5020.

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how I miss San Diego's theatre! luckily I can always find Jeff Smith's insightful, entertaining, truthful reviews online -- he makes it seem like I was THERE --- enjoying every minute for better or worse -- fab comments on both pieces this week - thanks!

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