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Theater: When air travel was fun – and even funny

By Carrie Humphreys
For the Observer

From takeoff to landing, “Boeing-Boeing” soars as the ultimate classical farce, listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the most performed French play worldwide. But you won’t cruise “up, up and away” through this jet-propelled romp. There’s turbulence. So fasten your seat belts.

Playwright Marc Camoletti writes about the “coffee, tea or me” Swinging ’60s and Bernard, an American bachelor architect living in Paris, who is engaged to three stewardesses.

Should we suspect a crash landing?

Fortunately, the stewardesses all work for three different airlines with three different layover schedules. Thanks to Bernard’s keen study of flight schedules, his trio of fiancées have no inkling of one another’s existences, enabling Bernard to share his apartment with them one at a time. He has their comings and goings timetabled with such precision that he can drop off his TWA girlfriend for her outgoing flight and pick up his inbound Lufthansa girlfriend on the very same trip to the airport while his Alitalia girlfriend is in a holding pattern elsewhere.

“The secret is order – pure mathematics,” explains Bernard, played by Tom Newmister, who propels the high flying shenanigans.

Bernard’s perfect life gets bumpy when a new and speedier Boeing jet throws off all of his careful planning. Soon all three stewardesses are in town simultaneously. Catastrophe looms.

Bernard’s “international harem” includes the spunky, take-charge Gloria from America played by Mary O’Donnell; the sassy and straight forward Gabriella from Italy played by Ariane Lieberman; and the strong and passionate Gretchen from Germany played by Robin Hearl.

Add to the mix Bernard’s visiting school chum Robert from Wisconsin, played by Robbie O’Donnell, who “wants in” on the action, and a reluctant housekeeper named Bertie, played by Jo Camlin, who tries to keep it all from falling apart.

Bertie, who rearranges the apartment and prepares special foods for each of the fiances, says she likes “a little bit of fun,” but the whirlwind of Bernard’s existence is “no life for a maid.”

This sexy, high-spirited production has all the makings of hilarious community theater and was an obvious choice for the Swamp Fox Players and veteran director Inge Ebert, who thrives on theatrical humor. (The movie version starred Jerry Lewis, Tony Curtis and Thelma Ritter.)

Ebert loves to make people laugh, “and I like to laugh myself,” she said.

Ebert said directing takes about six months out of your life, but she was willing to take on the commitment. “I’ve been after the rights to this play for years. It just now opened up to community theater and we’re one of the first ones to get permission to do it,” she said.

Ebert chose her actors with care. “They are awfully good,” she said. “I always allow my actors and actresses to have their input because if they are uncomfortable then, I say, ‘Let’s see what we can do about it.’ I need them to feel at home on the set. And if they have an idea to make it funnier by all means let’s hear it.”

Timing is Ebert’s obvious challenge. “Making sure the actors know exactly when to make their entrance. Timing is the thing with every comedy and this one, in particular, requires split second timing,” she said.

If you go

What: “Boeing-Boeing” by Marc Camoletti

When: April 26, May 2, 3, 8-10 at 8 p.m. May 4 and 11 at 2:30 p.m.

Where: Strand Theater, Georgetown

How much: $15. Call 527-2924 for tickets

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