Theatre Review: Boeing Boeing doesn’t quite take flight

“This 1960’s French farce adapted for the English-speaking stage features self-styled Parisian lothario Bernard, who has Italian, German, and American fiancées, each a beautiful airline hostess with frequent “layovers.” He keeps “one up, one down, and one pending” until unexpected schedule changes bring all three to Paris, and Bernard’s apartment, at the same time.” – Samuel French

The Candlelight Theatre in Wilmington, DE offers up another dinner and a show event with Boeing Boeing, a farce by Mark Camoletti. Having been invited to cover several productions at Candelight, I was looking forward to another “date night” with one of my girl friends and fellow theatre lover.  One of the charms of attending dinner theatre is meeting your new dinner companions.  This evening was no different, having met Lynn and her husband John, both subscribers to The Candlelight.  They didn’t hold back from relaying some of their favorite productions (Funny Girl) and even indicated a few that were not up their alley. For a good hour and a half, my friend and I enjoyed the table conversation as well as some “girl-talk” while indulging in one of the best food spreads I have had the pleasure of eating at Candlelight. Most notably, the gnocchi in red sauce, fried potato “chips”, and turkey meatballs.  They always have about 5 side selections and 5 protein varieties plus a decent salad bar. It is to be noted that the desert options are greater when attending a musical.  Normally a dozen or so options, this evening, by the time I got to desert, there were only 3 options of cake left at my disposal.

The servers and bartenders also add to the charm of the theatre as they are playing double duty as they are also IN the production.  The sense of community at “the barn” is thick every time I’ve attended.

Boeing Boeing is a show I’ve heard about and seen promoted at theatres year after year but have yet to see.  I was anxious to get another farce under my belt as these types of comedies are most in my wheelhouse. Unfortunately, I think I was seeing an entirely different show than the audience around me.  To pull off farce, it certainly acquires skill in both actor and director, specifically with physicality and timing.  Something was just “off” for me.  Perhaps I went in with expectations too high that prevented me from submerging into their Parisian world.

Playing Bernard, Ian Agnew, sets the tone of the story.  Introducing us to what is clearly going to be a debacle of juggling three fiancés from three different countries but living in one flat. I don’t know if it was director’s choice or the translated script, but I believe Bernard is French, however Agnew elected for an American dialect.  He certainly could be an American transplant but I wasn’t getting that feeling from the script.  Playing his live-in domestic servant, Berthe, is Candlelight favorite Victoria Healy (the evening’s bartender) with full perfect French accent. This character is so well written, she deserves a spin-off of her own.  Healy, herself, deserves a one-woman show as I don’t think there is anything she can’t do.

When thinking of how female flight attendants were portrayed in the 60s, I was nervous at the types of women I’d be introduced to as well as how comfortable I would be in a #metoo world.  Camoletti has written three strong female narratives where the women are certainly the ones in power, although Bernard doesn’t know it.  Gloria, the American played by Marybeth Williamson, Gabriella, the Italian played Heather Ferrell, and Gretchen, the German played by Sophie Jones (also my server for the night). All three actors really flushed out their character arcs well.  However, there were a couple roadblocks on the production end that took me out of the story on more than one occasion.

Except for one production that I’ve seen, Candlelight tends to use wigs in their productions.  The barn theatre is such an intimate space that the use of wigs really needs to be as authentic and as lifelike as possible.  In this case, all four female actors were wearing obtrusive wigs designed by Lisa Miller Challenger. The promotional photo of the play shows three women with parted hair pulled back into a bun in the back underneath their flight uniform hats.  In the production, Williamson’s large curly blonde wig was too big for her face, Ferrell’s black wig was also large and covered most of her face, then when not wearing a hat was adorned with a headband that didn’t compliment her costume.  Jones’ wig was a blonde up do that was so thick in the back that it seemed to be wearing her down.  Imagine Ab Fab’s Patsy Stone.  I am aware that I am putting a lot of emphasis on the wigs, but there is a reason.

The set, as designed by Envision Productions, was simply made and adorned in greys, whites, and splashes of pink.  60s style furniture aided to the retro style of the script allowing us to know the time-period at first glance.  Being a frequent flyer to Candlelight, I believe they merged there last set from The Drowsy Chaperone, as the layout seemed almost identical.  This time, several more doors were added for the traditional farcical world. One major element to the design was a self-portrait of Gloria on the wall. This portrait plays a major role in the comedy of the piece as it continually changes based on the woman who is home for their layover.  This is where I was immediately taken out of the world.  The portrait of Gloria was clearly the actress in her real-life’s hairstyle.  Remember, the character of Gloria has blonde hair, in the portrait, the character identifiably has brown hair.  The same goes for the character of Gabriella who on stage has that black wig and in her portrait, has blonde hair.  Was this an oversight by director Bob Kelly? Honestly, I think the hair styles in the portraits complimented the characters much better than the wigs as previously indicated.

With background in production management and direction, I tend to harp on the little things.  As previously mentioned, the audience around me didn’t notice these flaws.  They were smitten by the story from start to finish.  Especially when introduced to Eric Rupp’s portrayal of Robert, the character that glues the story together.  Rupp’s rendition of Robert at first was of inquisition, then of neurotic side-kick, then finally as an accomplished Lothario.  It’s clear that a script can hold a story together and that an audience can clearly suspend their disbelief and go along for the ride.  The tables behind me and next to me and in front of me were doubling over with laughter and enjoyment.  My table co-horts John and Lynn loved every moment.

I’m not a total grinch, I assure you.  Costumes by Tara Bowers were well done and true to form for the time.  Eye-popping colors to identify each airline as well at matching airline bags and logos for each.  Made me wonder whatever happened to airline bags??  Properties and set decorations by Amanda Gilles were of merit and aided to the humor of the play.  Healy’s character was literally the keeper of all props and utilized them in ways to embellish the farcical plot.  Without giving away the gags, her use of a feather duster is of particular note.

From doors opening and closing to actors running and panting and slumbering onto couches Boeing Boeing was a hit at Candlelight. If theatre is meant to entertain, this certainly did indeed for the entire audience around me.  This nit-picky girl couldn’t get past some of the flaws and it never allowed me to succumb to the nature of the script. Lynn said to me at the end of the show, “I loved this so much.  I think you are too critical and are preventing yourself from having a good time.”  Perhaps she is right.  But, if a critic liked everything she saw, she wouldn’t be a real critic, would she? I’ve seen phenomenal work at Candlelight and this one just didn’t fit the bill for me. A little more attention to detail would have gone a long way. So, if you’re a theatre snob like me, this one may not be for you. But, if you are someone who wants to escape and enjoy a night out, then you will certainly enjoy yourself at Candlelight Theatre because everyone around me certainly did!


Boeing Boeing runs through June 24th.

Info and tickets:

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