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Theater review: Boeing Boeing 

French-fried bedroom farce

In a Parisian flat not far from Orly Airport, a slick playboy is juggling three fiancées, all of them stewardesses — Gloria from the US, Gabriella from Italy and Gretchen from Germany. How does Bernard manage to keep all three ladies unaware of each other's existence in Boeing Boeing, you might ask. Well, as you'll find out in the long-overdue regional premiere at CAST, Bernard has selected his paramours with actuarial care, relying on the authoritative precision of an international timetable as thick as a telephone book.

You see, this is Europe in 1967 (actually 1962 if we go back to the date Marc Camoletti's comedy first hit London). Apparently, the idea of on-time airline departures and arrivals hadn't yet become laughably preposterous.

No, Bernard's marvelous ingenuity had to be confounded by the technological revolution that flew in on the wings of the newer, faster Boeing jet planes in their international debuts. And to get not merely one stewardess intruding on another with her premature arrival, Camoletti conjures up a storm over the Atlantic that sends the third stewardess back to Paris.

Here we can rejoice greatly that Camoletti has equipped Bernard's apartment with the plenitude of doors required for farce. We find no fewer than seven doors facing us when the need for stewardess shuffling becomes most acute.

As Bernard explains to Robert, an old bud who drops in from Wisconsin, irregularities have happened before. Bernard's remedy, in such infidelity crises, has been to take one of the ladies out and stay away until the coast is clear. So the arrival of Robert is doubly fortuitous. First and foremost, Robert serves as the one person Bernard can tell what the hell is going on after Gloria's departure. Later, when complications multiply, Robert is on hand with Bernard's housekeeper, Berthe, to help direct traffic when two of the stewardesses are inevitably in the apartment at the same time.

CAST hasn't done a farce until now, as far as I can tell, and their first foray only looks like a miscalculation. Boeing Boeing is very much a proscenium animal, and while set designer James Burns Jr. has labored valiantly to adapt Bernard's apartment to a thrust stage, the seven doors foredoomed the result to look like a cheap motel or a glorified locker room.

The sparse furnishings won't help you ignore the lack of luxury, but the brisk action will. As it becomes more frenetic, hormonal activity also heats up, and costume designer Rebecca Randolph's most striking work is reserved for her intimate apparel. We expect Robert to break a sweat keeping all of Bernard's lies and deceptions straight — he's from Wisconsin, remember? — but the suave playboy's sangfroid also begins to crumble.

Directing this froth, Tony Wright has chosen three Charlotte fixtures and three relative newcomers for his cast. Until now, Emmanuel Barbe has been seen predominantly in Shakespeare Carolina productions at Winthrop University, but now as Bernard, we can finally determine where that cockamamie accent comes from — in a role far more demanding. Joe Rux, the effete Martin Van Buren in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson last fall, is well-established as one of our best comic performers, and our pulses quicken almost as soon as he enters, delivering Robert's fretful grasp of Bernard's risk-taking and salivating each time one of the delectable rewards sashays in.

Seen far more pathetically last summer in an outdoor Titus Andronicus, Mandy Kendall is pleasingly alluring and calculating as TWA stewardess Gloria. Our previous samplings of Katie Bearden with Shakespeare Carolina have been far more substantial than Barbe's, including starring roles in The Tempest and Brecht's Antigone, so it's not surprising to find the tempestuous Alitalia air hostess Gabriella well within Bearden's range, with a marinara-thick accent ladled on top.

Among numerous Charlotte triumphs in the past six years, Karina Roberts-Caporino first hooked up with Wright when he directed and starred in Zastrozzi two seasons ago. Small wonder, then, that Wright taps her for the most conflicted stewardess role, Lufthansa liebchen Gretchen, who finds herself vacillating between the two men. Winner of many past plaudits and awards, Polly Adkins isn't stretched at all rounding out the cast as the stressed, befuddled and scandalized Berthe, but the retired French teacher gives us the first reminders of her day job since she starred in Piaf 14 years ago.

Wright and stage manager Megan Hirschy team together with a sound design that evokes memories of Burt Bacharach and The Dating Game. Come to CAST expecting those levels of sophistication, and you'll find the ride first-class.

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