By Annette Hinkle
Let’s face it … traveling by plane can be a real hassle these days.
Shoes off, computers out, invasive gropes by TSA agents, and then once onboard there are cramped seats, no food, poorly dressed and badly mannered fellow passengers to look forward to, as well as surly flight crews.
Let’s get there already!
Believe it or not, there was a time 50 years or so ago when air travel was actually glamorous and a much welcome alternative to cars or trains. Back then, passengers dressed to the nines for the occasion and being employed by the airlines was the height of prestige — a profession that told the world you had, indeed, arrived.
That romantic era of 1960s jet travel is the setting for “Boeing Boeing,” Marc Camoletti’s slapstick comedy opening this weekend and presented by Center Stage at Southampton Cultural Center.
Camoletti wrote the play during the time in which it is set, and though he’s a Frenchman by birth, it hardly matters when it comes to the language in the script. That’s because “Boeing Boeing” is pure farce in the classic sense — a very simple situation compounded by a series of misunderstandings, missteps and mistimings all unintentionally engineered by one central character. In this case, it’s a hapless single man looking to juggle not one, not two, but three women in the face of an increasingly efficient jet age.
The time is the early 1960s and our swinging bachelor, Bernard, is living in Paris where he is happily (if deceitfully) engaged to three “stewardesses” — as they were called in those pre-enlightened days.
“Mathematically, he has figured out the schedules of Alitalia, Lufthansa and TWA, and that the three never cross paths,” explained director Michael Disher in a recent phone interview with the Express.
Naturally, none of Bernard’s trio knows about the existence of the others. For Bernard, keeping the secret (and the peace) is all about juggling the schedules to ensure no two are ever in Paris at the same time.
But then, Boeing comes out with a new, speedier jet capable of crossing oceans in record time and Bernard’s meticulous timetable is thrown into a tailspin. Life suddenly becomes much more complicated — and hilarious — as a result.
This play features a relatively small cast of six, and while the plot is basic and straightforward enough, remember, this is a farce. That means there is a lot more to it than just the words on the printed page.
“Comedy is, without a doubt, the hardest,” confessed Disher while he and the cast were still deep in the rehearsal process and working it all out. “The physicality, the reactions, the interactions, things that are around you. It is complicated.”
“It’s not the lines, it’s the situations,” he added. “When we sat down and read the script, I thought ‘it’s not that funny.’ But once you get on stage and get it in motion it’s really hysterical.”
“Right now, I’m trying to find as much humor as I can in a bean bag chair.”
Making farce — or any form of comedy for that matter — successful depends on the timing and Disher conceded that it’s taking time to pull it all together.
“There’s timing for doors, props, wine deliveries and so many of the lines are just one or two words. It has to be razor sharp, and the cast is getting it, to a degree,” he said, admitting there is also a level of fear amongst the actors about getting it right. “Anytime you go into comedy there is fear, because there’s high expectations and jokes can go flat.
“It’s just that one pico second that makes all the difference.”
In most plays, directors can turn to the script and the playwright’s well-considered suggestions for making the play work. Since the plotline of “Boeing Boeing” is so basic, the humor has to be there, but as a director, Disher has found that what’s not there are any written stage directions of any kind that would make the process easier.
“There’s no direction at all by Camoletti. There are indications of doors to exit, and they’re wrong,” said Disher. “You have to dissect the piece and go ‘this is the kitchen,’ ‘this is the bedroom,’ ‘this is the terrace.’ You have to reinvent how you’re staging it.”
As a result, Disher decided to create a totally symmetrical set to offset the on-stage madness.
“I wanted the very neat framework for all the chaos to contrast what is so linear,” he said.
Ultimately, he is certain the many crazy components of “Boeing Boeing” will all come together and give East End audiences much needed relief from the strife of today’s complicated political woes. And it’s comedy that Disher feels we sorely need right now.
“Something light, something frivolous that isn’t necessarily real,” he said.
Of course, being the early ‘60s this play isn’t entirely politically correct and there are still plenty of gender stereotypes and terms like “stewardess” floating about in the script, but it certainly highlights how far we’ve come — well, in some realms anyway.
And Disher thinks audiences will enjoy “Boeing Boeing” just for its ability to transport them back to a less complicated time in the jet age — and with a great soundtrack to boot.
“There was a great amount of innocence attached to that time. Things were just so much simpler,” he said. “Marc Camoletti translates well — it’s quick banter, frothy and really kind of a verbal soufflé … though if you slam that door too hard and that soufflé falls.”
“And boy, do we need comedy now. I don’t think anyone can take anything heavy handed. We just need to lighten up. Theater has the capability and responsibility to do this.”
Center Stage at Southampton Cultural Center presents Marc Camoletti’s, “Boeing Boeing” October 20 through November 5 in Southampton Cultural Center’s Levitas Center for the Arts. The cast features Dane DuPuis, Shannon DuPuis, Samantha Honig, John Leonard, Catherine Maloney and Josephine Wallace. Performances are at 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 8 p.m. on Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $25 ($15 students). Dinner theatre packages at Plaza Café are available Thursdays through Saturdays. To purchase, visit scc-arts.org or call (631) 287-4377.