Bernard is an American architect living in Paris. He has three fiances whom he keeps separate thanks to their varying schedules; they're all flight attendants. A friend comes to visit, schedules get rearranged and -- since this is not a Greek tragedy -- hilarity ensues.
Boeing Boeing, the comedy brought back to Broadway in 2008 that went on to win a Tony Award for Best Revival, has started a run in Houston with the Alley Theatre's resident company.
And although the plot sounds a bit improbable and dated in today's world of Internet and cell phones, even the New York Times' esteemed critic Ben Brantley thought the show was wonderful when he reviewed it in 2008.
Matthew Warchus was the British director who redid the show and won accolades and a best director nomination from the Tonys for his revisions. He is overseeing this production but the director this time around is fellow Britisher Lisa Spirling who exchanged e-mails with Hair Balls about the show.
Hair Balls: Did you work with previous casts for Boeing-Boeing either in London or on Broadway?
Lisa Spirling: I have, I worked with the cast in the UK for 8 months.
HB: How long have you been working with the cast from the Alley?
LS: Just since the beginning of the rehearsal period (approx 3 weeks so far, and there have been conversations and planning time with them prior to that)
HB: What are the differences between the British and American version of the play? Are there any changes you've made from the Broadway version?
LS: The British to the American version has both Robert and Bernard as Americans living in Paris as opposed to them being Parisian. Robert is from Wisconsin and a couple of amendments are made in the text to accommodate for that. No changes have been made from the Broadway version, except that it is a new company discovering the text and the production for themselves.
HB: OK, Boeing-Boeing is set in the '60s and NY Times critic Ben Brantley described it as having at its base "a creaky French comedy" and yet said it works wonderfully, even though the characters are one-dimensional. Why do you think it has worked so well?
LS: Because the production ensures that the characters are not one-dimensional, they are at times larger than life but their energies and instincts are such that you believe in them and most importantly care about the hilarious predicaments they find themselves in.
HB: In today's age of instant messaging and the Internet, could someone really carry out multiple liaisons from the same apartment as long as Bernard did?
LS: Oooh good question, and one we have discussed in rehearsal. Possibly it would help Bernard do the job better as he would always know where they are but then they would always know where he is. It would be a different show but something equally interesting.
HB: Should we regard Bernard as a rascally scamp or just a lustful fool who can't make up his mind. Is he living a dream or a nightmare?
LS: He starts by living the dream which turns into a nightmare, possibly a just punishment for being a 'rascally scamp'! I believe he is a scamp and a fool who slowly finds his way thanks to a world of wonderful women.
HB: Are the British and American senses of humor really miles apart? Are there jokes and scenes from this show that go over better there than here?
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LS: I think night to night an audience can change in their response, some latch onto the physical gags, others are delighted by the quick wit and the funny lines, ideally most get caught up in the situation and the tension of that they are lost in the world of the play and praying for it's protagonists. From the UK and US there isn't much difference, only that in different accents certain words sound funnier, but that is balanced out on both sides.
HB: Why should Houston audiences come to see Boeing-Boeing?
LS: Well I personally love it because it makes you smile so much, you get on board this incredible adventure and it leads you to laugh till it hurts, the performances are incredible and the script with this production is classic farce at it's very best.
Boeing Boeing opens officially June 9 and runs through June 27 on the Hubbard Stage at the Alley. Tickets are available at www.alleytheatre.org, at the Alley Theatre Box Office, 615 Texas Avenue, or by calling 713-220-5700.