In ancient times, there were "air hostesses." If you have never been through an airport without being forced to remove footwear, you are too young to remember pretty armies of exotic airline goddesses in kicky miniskirts and calf-hugging boots. They were the go-go geishas of international travel, stirring cocktails and playing the odds among rows of flirty business blokes. The 1960s were the heyday of the sexy "coffee, tea or me?" girls. How quaint they seem, how mythic, now that we are cattle-prodded onto jets by surly "flight attendants" of indeterminate gender, enforcing the humiliations of "sky law" as arbitrarily as underpaid prison guards.
The vintage farce Boeing-Boeing, by French playwright Marc Camoletti, celebrates the stews of yore and builds its comedy around the OK-it's-sexist perception that those Pucci-clad lasses were there for the having, if a man were man enough. Sounds dumb, and it is, but Camoletti's 1962 play had terrific revivals in London and then on Broadway three years ago, and it's getting the boffo treatment right now at Fort Worth's Circle Theatre.
It's directed by Robin Armstrong, who's earned a spiff reputation at Circle over the past few years as an expert shaper of hard-to-stage farces. She's cast six first-cabin actors, all able to overcome the awkward French-to-English translation of Camoletti's dialogue and adept at the physical boing-boing that keeps Boeing-Boeing flying along. Armstrong also has designed the outfits, including period-accurate, Mad Men-era stewardess uniforms and tote bags from Alitalia, Lufthansa and TWA.
Dallas actor Ashley Wood goes boiling red-faced as Bernard, a randy young Englishman living in Paris and engaged to three fly-girls, who rotate in and out of his posh apartment every two days, thanks to his prowess at juggling international flight schedules. Giggly German Gretchen (Morgan McClure), bellissima Italian Gabriella (Emily Scott Banks) and American Dixie darlin' Gloria (Sherry Hopkins) each thinks she's Bernard's only amour. Then one frazzled day the system falls apart as flights are canceled and Bernard is left to shove his trio of beauties in and out of bedrooms and guest rooms to keep them from discovering each other. (The Circle Theatre scenery, designed by Clare Floyd Devries, makes marvelous use of seven doorways and a groovy phallus-shaped sofa.)
Adding to the madness is Robert (Andy Baldwin), an old friend of Bernard's who drops in unannounced and gets tangled up in his pal's round of romantic Twister. With biting commentary by an acerbic maid, Bertha (Krista Scott), who's tired of catering to the women's menu whims, the comedic geometry grows even more complicated.
This isn't a play with funny lines worth quoting. Instead, it's full of wickedly amusing moments: nebbishy Robert wildly miming clues to Bernard, who doesn't know Gretchen's in bedroom No. 1; Robert playing hide and seek with a Lufthansa flight bag; the audience shouting "No!" as Bernard reaches for the wrong doorknob.
Baldwin, sporting a pervy mustache, is the king scene absconder, looking Barney Fife shaky one minute, Hefner-cool the next. He's the star of Circle's best farces and it's hard to imagine seeing one without him in it. The ladies, as luscious as Vargas pin-ups, bring three-dimensional emotions to one-dimensional stereotypes. McClure is especially good as the towering Teuton with the cloud of curly blond hair; her character's the one who suddenly flips her affections in the second act. Only Scott seems slightly off, projecting too sophisticated an air as Bertha; more stern headmistress than fed-up housekeeper.
Like Dallas Theater Center's current production of Arsenic and Old Lace (see it if you haven't already), Circle Theatre has taken an inane old script and given it a first-class upgrade.
For new performances in short bursts, there's nothing better than WaterTower Theatre's annual Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, opening Thursday, March 3, and playing through Sunday, March 13, in Addison. (Dallas Observer is one of the media sponsors of the festival this year.) For two weekends, all three venues at the theater complex are simultaneously abuzz with one-act plays, cabaret, dance, poetry slams, stand-up comedy and small-cast pieces that defy conventional definitions. See one show on a cheap ticket (most shows are $10 or $15) or see them all with a festival pass for $55. Among the more than 20 solo and group productions on the schedule, these look like must-sees:
Faye Lane's Beauty Shop Stories (7:30 p.m. March 3, 8 p.m. March 4 and 7:30 p.m. March 6) features the Dallas native in her one-woman comedy blend of songs and monologues about growing up in her mom's Texas beauty salon. Now living in New York City, Lane has done this show to great reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and off-Broadway at the SoHo Playhouse. Lane will also lead a playwriting workshop at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, March 5, as part of her Loop appearance (ticket not included on festival pass).
Lauren Weedman stars in No...You Shut Up, her solo comedy about fractured families, dead mothers and foster kids. A former correspondent on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, Weedman has performed her satirical monologues on NPR and off-Broadway. (See it at 8 p.m. March 11 and 12 and 2 p.m. March 13.)
Robert Wuhl's gruff, stuttering style of comedy was a hit on his HBO Arli$$ series and is on display again in his one-man show at the Loop Fest called Assume the Position, based on two recent HBO specials of the same name. Wuhl uses slides to educate the audience on the inaccuracies of history, thanks to the perpetuation of media myths, too many bad movie rewrites and the distortions of pop culture. (See it at 8 p.m. March 11, 2 and 8 p.m. March 12 and 2 p.m. March 13.)
For drama, Broken Gears Project Theatre has an intriguing regional premiere in The Magdalen Whitewash, a play by Valerie Goodwin based on true stories of young Irish girls forced to live in unspeakably harsh conditions among sadistic nuns until the 1990s. Their crime? Getting pregnant as teens. This regional premiere will transfer after the festival to BGPT's home space in Oak Lawn. (See it at Loop at 7:30 p.m. March 3, 2 p.m. March 6 and 5 p.m. March 13.)
Taking Chances—A Cabaret with Marjorie Hayes offers an eclectic mix of story songs by James Taylor, Elton John and Leonard Cohen. Hayes, a UNT prof, drew rave reviews for her singing in this same revue at LA's Gardenia Supper Club and Manhattan's Duplex Cabaret Theatre. Musical accompaniment is by two of this area's best: Hans Grim on keyboards and Peggy Honea on acoustic bass. (See it at 7:30 p.m. March 3, 8 p.m. March 5 and 2 p.m. March 6.)
Dallas Cabaret Artists present That's Life (7:30 p.m. March 13), starring Gary Floyd, Denise Lee and Erica and Shane Peterman, with Buddy Shanahan on piano. The ups, downs, firsts and lasts of life are depicted in songs performed by several of the area's top cabaret/club favorites.