Jet Fretter

The Modern's airplane-themed comedy isn't timely, but it's certainly well-timed

Jet Fretter
Dan Baumer
FROM LEFT: Aubrey Shimek Davis; Henry McNulty; Sarah Miller; Callie McKinney Cabe; Kyle Kahklen; and Nicole Meyer.

The one-room set of Boeing Boeing, currently at the Modern Spokane in a production directed by Abbey Crawford, is meticulous in its evocation of a particular era — a slightly pedestrian form of mid-century modern dominated by queasy oranges and turquoises, the wallpaper pattern a sleek, repeating silhouette of the jetliners that trace the arcs on the map painted across the stage floor. All that's missing is a shag rug (orange, of course) with ankle-deep pile. Unlike an episode of Mad Men, though, there are no knowing nods to a more liberated, enlightened audience some 50 years hence. First staged in France in 1960, Marc Camoletti's play is a charming anachronism, a play so steeped and hermetically sealed in its own time that its passé modernity becomes part of its appeal.

With as many doors as there are characters, the set proclaims its genre as loudly as its decade. The ludicrous premise of Boeing Boeing is that Bernard (Kyle Kahklen), a Parisian-based American architect, is juggling three fiancées — all of them quaintly employed as "air hostesses" — in strict accordance with the airline timetables. There's Gloria (Aubrey Shimek Davis), the American; Gabriella (Nicole Meyer), the Italian; and Gretchen (Sarah Miller), the German. None knows of the others. Bernard is assisted in his three-timing by Berthe (Callie McKinney Cabe), his malcontent French housekeeper.

Then Robert (Henry McNulty), a lonely old college buddy, shows up unannounced, determined to leave Paris with a fiancée of his own. In an astounding coincidence, this is on the same day as a freak storm over the Atlantic and the implementation of a new, speedier Boeing passenger jet. Suddenly the timetables on which Bernard complacently relies would be put to better use as paper airplanes.

Among a cast of inordinately large characters played by young but skilled actors, Kahklen is a bit too fresh-faced and wispy to be taken seriously (that is, as seriously as over-the-top comedy allows) as a debonair playboy. As Bernard's foil, McNulty has the endearingly ill-at-ease mannerisms of, say, Jack Lemmon offset by a polite baritone. That means he can choke on the word "polygamy" without sounding irredeemably pitiful. Davis plays Gloria as a fast-talking noir dame (think Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy) instead of the bubbly, bouffanted American the part seems to call for, but her supreme self-assuredness and New York backstory are enough to make it work. The three "foreign" roles — namely, Meyer's fiery, fickle Gabriella, Miller's borderline Gretchen and Cabe's grumbling Berthe — bring the entire play to life. As Gretchen, for example, Miller can't navigate the apartment without caressing the furniture in a gesture as sensual as it is psychotic.

Crawford and her cast bring a remarkably precise method to all this madness, so the smoochy screwball humor is never overwrought and the few lulls stem from Camoletti's habit of having his characters attempt to explain the inexplicable. ♦

Boeing Boeing • Through May 31; Thu-Sat at 7:30 pm, Sun at 2 pm • $19-$25 • The Modern Spokane • 174 S. Howard • • 455-PLAY

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About The Author

E.J. Iannelli

E.J. Iannelli is a Spokane-based freelance writer, translator, and editor whose byline occasionally appears here in The Inlander. One of his many shortcomings is his inability to think up pithy, off-the-cuff self-descriptions.