One of the main themes in the works of dramaturgy that explore the relationship between men and women has always been concerned with the exposure of some deep-seated psychological differences between the representatives of two opposite genders. As the popular saying (inspired by the name of John Gray’s book) goes – ‘women are from Venus and men are from Mars’. The 2015 production of Marc Camoletti’s 1965 comedy Boeing Boeing at the Barbara Barrett Theatre (St. John’s, Newfoundland) that lasted through March 5th – 8th is no different in this respect.
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However, what is particularly notable about the director’s (Ian Campbell) handling of this specific theme is that he made a point in trying to enlighten the audience about what should be considered the main reason that causes men and women to adopt different strategies to addressing life challenges. Hence, the production’s main message conveyed ‘between the lines’ – whereas, men are polygamous, women are monogamous (Casal 726). I my paper, I will explore the validity of this suggestion at length, while expounding on the discursive and technical aspects of the theatrical performance in question. I will also highlight what can be deemed the production’s foremost weaknesses.
The comedy’s plot is far from being considered overly complicated. In essence, it revolves around the main character’s (Bernard played by Glenn Gaulton) intention to continue keeping all three of his presumed ‘fiancés’ Gloria (Lynn Panting), Gabriella (Alanah Whiteway), and Gretchen (Hillary Bushell) unaware of each other’s existence – all for the sake of enjoying plenty of sex, without being required to face any socially binding responsibilities (Hickey par. 5). The fact that the featured female characters worked as flight attendants came in particularly handy for Bernard – while knowing their flight schedules, he was able to make sure that only one of his ‘fiancés’ would show up at his apartment (in Paris) at a time. The introduction of the new Boeing jet-planes, however, made it much harder for Bernard to keep all three women apart because the concerned development enabled them to spend more time in Paris. The arrival of Bernard’s friend Robert (Phil Goodridge) complicated the matters even further. As the plot unravels, Gloria, Gabriella, and Gretchen grow increasingly suspicious that there is something ‘fishy’ going on. This contributes rather substantially towards keeping the audience entertained throughout the play’s entirety.
Overall, the actors’ performance is best described as thoroughly believable. This suggestion especially applies to the onstage act of Robert, which can be partially explained by the fact that Phil Goodridge’s physical appearance is perfectly consistent with the popular image of a conservatively minded and shy man from some provincial periphery. At the same time, however, the director’s choice for the actors to play the roles of Bernard and Gloria does not seem to be well thought-out. For example, the play’s context implies that Bernard is the man with a great sexual ‘mojo’, who attracts females on an instinctual level. However, the ‘exterior’ of Glenn Gaulton is suggestive that he is anything but a natural-born lothario – a balding/glasses-wearing man through his fifties with a double chin and a beer belly. Essentially the same can be said about the character of Gloria (Lynn Panting). Being rather on a heavy side, she makes a striking contrast with the rest of flight attendants seen in the play. This, of course, does undermine the production’s overall psychological plausibility to an extent.
Campbell’s directing concept is best defined as such that adheres to the conventional canons of dramaturgy. The main rationale behind this suggestion has to do with the fact that, as it can be inferred from the actors’ onstage performance, they were instructed stick close to the written script while engaging with each other verbally. Nevertheless, the director did allow the elements of improvisation to affect the play’s semiotics. For example, in one of the initial scenes of the Act 1 where Gloria gives a good-bye kiss to Bernard, she does it in an extremely suggestive manner, which in turn strengthens the play’s sexual overtones. It is quite clear that the actress was driven by her own initiative to act in this way – Camoletti’s original script (translated into English and adapted for the North-American audience) does not contain any provisions for the play’s theatrical productions to radiate sexual suggestiveness. Moreover, there were a few instances of actors reacting to the remarks from some front-seated viewers. This contributed towards ensuring the perceived casualness of the onstage action.
There was nothing innovative about the production’s scenic design as well. The entire play takes place within the setting of a living room in Bernard’s apartment. The director made a deliberate point in ensuring the setting’s consistency with what our contemporaries believe used to account for people’s stylistic preferences through the sixties. The bright yellow coloring of the room’s walls is especially notable in this respect. After all, it now represents a commonplace practice among many people to assume that the historical period in question was marked by its affiliates’ attraction to ‘visual flamboyancy’ (Lekus 35). This also explains the chessboard-themed ornament on the rug beneath the coffee table – as the decorative elements of design, differently shaped and colored chessboard squares used to be very popular in the West at the time when Camoletti wrote Boeing Boeing. The prominently located rotary telephone that gets to ring a few times through the play is another element of the setting that helps the audience to submerge in the atmosphere of the sixties
The production’s props design is also supposed to serve the cause of ensuring the authenticity of the play’s themes and motifs. Throughout the era, most people were not quite as preoccupied with trying to lead a healthy lifestyle, as it is the case with them nowadays. This explains the discursive significance of the scenes in which characters devour heavily syroped pancakes, drink straight shots of cognac, and smoke cigarettes one after another. Even though these scenes did help making the audience mentally attuned with Camoletti’s take on what one’s living in Paris in 1965 was all about, it is quite clear from the audience’s reaction that many of its members did not find the onstage sights of attractive young women smoking cigarettes particularly enjoyable. Therefore, it appears that the director’s effort in trying to ensure the props design’s historical accuracy proved little too excessive. At the same time, however, the director did succeed in making sure that the featured props do correlate with the play’s semiotic content.
As far as the production’s sound design is concerned, there is very little to be mentioned. The play features no musical accompaniment, whatsoever. There is a gong-like sound heard when the stage darkens during the intermissions, but this is about it. We can speculate that the director’s choice, in this regard, reflected his willingness to do just about all that it takes to facilitate the comic intensity of the dialogues between the characters. In its turn, this called for the elimination of just about anything within the production’s spatial framework that could potentially divert viewers’ attention from the theatrical action. There is another thing that might have added to the strength of Campbell’s commitment to have the production ‘music-free’ – the small size of the Barbara Barrett Theatre, which means that it is not suitable for staging any ‘acoustically rich’ plays.
The production’s lightning design is thoroughly conventional (Canavan 474). The onstage action is illuminated by two projectors, located (offstage) in the right and left corners, and by the one from above. This allows the audience to have a clear view of actors – something rather indispensable, given the characters’ tendency to gesticulate a lot throughout the play. At the same time, however, this causes the setting to appear somewhat unlikely because there are multiple shadows to every performing actor.
The strongest element of the production’s overall design are the featured costumes, especially the ones worn by female actors. These costumes correlate perfectly well with what used to be conventions of fashion through the sixties. With the probable exception of Gloria (due to her physical complexion), the play’s flight attendants do seem to have travelled through time from the past. There can be only a few doubts that the director did conduct some heavy research on the particulars of a dress code that ‘flight hostesses’ were expected to follow in the sixties. However, the authenticity-related considerations do not seem to have been only the ones behind the director’s choice for costumes. Because Gloria, Gabriella, and Gretchen are seen wearing very short (and tight) skirts, this naturally results in intensifying the motif of sexual tension within the play. This helps to encourage the audience to pay close attention to the plot’s developments more than anything else does.
My overall impression of the discussed production of Boeing Boeing is rather positive. What I like the most about this particular production (as well as Camoletti’s comedy as a whole) is that it promotes a scientifically sound outlook on the essence of the relationship between men and women, and on what should be deemed this relationship’s discursive significance. In the aftermath of having been exposed to Boeing Boeing, one will be likely to confirm to himself/herself once again that the Darwinian laws of evolution apply to humans as much as they apply to plants as animals. The reason for this is that, as it can be seen in the play, being a man is about ‘planting the seed’ in as many women as possible, and being a woman is about making sure that after having planted such a ‘seed’ in her, he will move no further and stick around helping to raise children (Sheehan 249).
Among the production’s deficiencies can be named a rather weak performance of Glenn Gaulton. Being played by this actor, the comedy’s main character Bernard does not seem to have what it takes to succeed in ‘womanizing’. Also, I did not like the fact that most dialogues that take place between the characters are strongly formulaic and reflective of the sexist assumption of women being intellectually shallow and manipulative.
“Boeing Boeing.” Vimeo, uploaded by Chris Hibbs, 2016, Web.
Canavan, Claire. “Illumination.” Theatre Journal 60.3 (2008): 473-475. Print.
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Casal, Paula. “Sexual Dimorphism and Human Enhancement.” Journal of medical ethics 39.12 (2013): 722-728. Print.
Hickey, Gloria. Ensemble Effort Creates Comic Collision in ‘Boeing Boeing’. 2016. Web.
Lekus, Ian. “The Long Sixties.” Magazine of History 20.2 (2006): 32-38. Print.
Sheehan, John. “Is Deceit a Masculine Virtue? ” Journal of Men’s Studies17.3 (2009): 242-250. Print.