Truth be told, seeing Martha Wilkinson in a black pageboy wig while she delivers a wonderfully droll comic character performance might be worth the price of a ticket to Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre's revival of Boeing-Boeing, the Marc Camoletti farce (adapted by Beverly Cross) under the direction of Charles Burr that is running throughout the month of December. But Wilkinson's superb performance notwithstanding, there's much more to love about the show.
Boeing-Boeing is a sophisticated-as only French farce can be-tale of high-flying hijinks and off-kilter romantic intrigue that affords Wilkinson the opportunity to show off her well-honed comic skills, her astonishing stage presence and her unerring timing. Burr has surrounded Bertha (that's the name of the housekeeper character played by Wilkinson) with an impressive cast of actors who approach their roles with stylish glee, transporting audiences back to the mid-1960s in this comedy that is anything but dated.
Camoletti, the consummate farceur, has created characters that are genuinely over-the-top, yet somehow grounded in reality (that's necessary for farce, good farce, to work), and placed them right smack in the middle of outrageous, sexually-charged situations (however innocent they may seem in the 21st century). No wonder audiences for nigh on to 50 years have responded so favorably to the play whenever or wherever it is staged; in fact, Boeing-Boeing is the most performed French play in history.
The production's design aesthetic emphasizes the play's time, place and setting-a fashionable Parisian pied-a-terre, occupied by architect Bernard, whose British pedigree is telegraphed by the apartment's obvious good taste mixed with haute couture (you can't help but love those chartreuse accents that dot the interior landscape)-but the comedy's timeless appeal rests upon its sparkling repartee and the sheer exhilaration of what transpires onstage. Credit Burr's sprightly direction of his stellar cast-which includes, in addition to the aforementioned Wilkinson, Nate Eppler, Corey Caldwell, Jennifer Richmond, Amanda Card McCoy and Joanna Hackman-ensures a night of theater that offers a light-hearted romp and a total escape from contemporary realities. In other words, Boeing-Boeing is the perfect holiday season diversion, even if it doesn't feature three ghostly interlopers attempting a heart transplant on a miserly financier.
Wilkinson is sublime as Bertha, the housekeeper for the playboy Bernard (Caldwell), who helps to keep her employer's balls in the air with her quick thinking and attention to detail. Caldwell, making his Chaffin's Barn debut, has his charming roué character down pat and he provides the requisite eye-twinkling as he finagles and maneuvers three separate love affairs-with three different, though each is beautiful and striking in her own right, airline "hostesses," one American (Card McCoy), one French (Hackman), one German (Richmond)-to make the most of his own swinging '60s lifestyle. When Bernard's old school chum Robert (Eppler) arrives from the provinces for a visit to the City of Light, he finds an initially unwilling and confused (but who could blame him?) comrade in arms to give an able assist him in his not so nefarious scheming.
Like all good farce, the situations in Boeing-Boeing border on the ridiculous and astute audiences can easily predict what will happen the very moment that Bernard first brandishes his handy-dandy airline schedule book. But it takes focused direction, supplied by Burr, and the total commitment of the talented cast to help the material transcend its stage-bound restrictions , to help Boeing-Boeing become airborne. And for that to happen, it's incumbent upon the actors to keep the plot moving ever-forward, keeping things light and frothy to achieve the lighter-than-air ambience. I'm happy to report that they succeed admirably.
Wilkinson, about whom so much has been written that it seems redundant to say she's marvelous as the clever Bertha, shows off her amazing comic chops with an easy grace, never once going too far. As a result, the audience laps up her performance like so much cream, reveling in her skillful way with the material. As her primary foil, Eppler provides Wilkinson with as good as she gives, showing off his own estimable ability to create a completely believable, yet altogether nonsensical, comic character (and giving an acting school-worthy spit-take in the process). It also doesn't hurt that at some point, as the stage lights hit him just so, you notice that Eppler has the most beautiful azure blue eyes. Together, Wilkinson and Eppler (who were so insanely good together in Tennessee Rep's The 39 Steps) show off their shared experience with so much style that you can't help but to find yourself completely caught up in their shenanigans.