In her debut directorial outing at Penobscot Theatre Company, the classic French farce “Boeing Boeing,” Bari Newport showed that she can get high energy, hilarious performances out of some area acting workhorses – while bringing a jolt of saucy, sophisticated style to the Bangor Opera House stage. While it’s at heart an entirely silly affair, it hits all the right notes: it looks fantastic, it’s performed well, and it’s a perfect way to brighten up a cold winter night.
As Robert, the college buddy of self-styled lothario Bernard (Dustin Charles), Dominick Varney is the glue that holds the show together. Varney’s doing what he does best: rubbery, deeply physical comedy. He blusters, he pouts, he mugs for the audience, and he hams it up in equal doses. To say he’s typecast is unfair to his talents; he’s just very, very good at playing the fool. Pitted against the two men are the three powerhouse women Bernard attempts to juggle: Gloria, Gabriella and Gretchen, played here by Christie Robinson, Brianne Beck and Jenny Hart, respectively. All three give fine performances, though as Gretchen, Hart takes the most risks and ends up being the most alluring of the bunch — she’s a German sex kitten, with more claws and bite than the American Gloria or the Italian Gabriella. Both Beck and Hart do suffer a bit with some occasionally impenetrable accents, but the show is almost more about physical performances than it is what anyone’s actually saying, so it’s not too much of a distraction. And as long suffering maid Bertha, AJ Mooney brings much-needed levity to the show; compared to everyone else, she’s almost understated.
Visually, the show is a gem. Penobscot Theatre Company is lucky to have the talents of Lex Liang on board, who created a swinging, totally believable Parisian bachelor pad for Bernard. The three fiancees are decked out in terrifically colorful and mostly historically accurate 1960s outfits. For the earthy Gabriella, an homage to Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2,” with her black and white dress – Bernard as well seems to be channeling French and Italian cinema from the 1960s, with his turtleneck and thick glasses. For loudmouthed Gloria, some white go-go boots and a hot pink miniskirt — though I’d like to see the airline that had a hostess dressed quite like that. And for the seductive Gretchen, a gorgeous yellow dress with matching yellow cape and hat. “Boeing Boeing” is an utter treat to look at.
It’s nothing groundbreaking, of course, but it’s hard to break new ground with a play that’s been produced thousands of times across the world. Newport and PTC did a fine job bringing the camp, sex and playfulness of “Boeing Boeing” to the stage. It bodes well for Newport’s future with the company.