Austin Playhouse succeeds in booking a funny flight to Madcap Farce City

Talk about friendly skies: Bernard (David Stokey) has Jacqueline (Hildreth England) in a locked and upright position
Talk about friendly skies: Bernard (David Stokey) has Jacqueline (Hildreth England) in a locked and upright position (Photo courtesy of Christopher Loveless)


Austin Playhouse, Mueller temporary facility, 1800 Simond
Through Feb. 26
Running time: 1 hr., 50 min.

Friday evening's trip to Boeing-Boeing provided my first acquaintance with the temporary facility currently in use by Austin Playhouse, located in the Mueller development near Airport Boulevard. Given that the play centers around three flight attendants, entering the tentlike structure felt almost planned – as though one were stepping into an airline hangar of sorts. Playhouse Producing Artistic Director Don Toner and his team have done a truly remarkable job creating what is one of the most effective temporary theatre spaces in which I've ever taken in a performance. Add to that fact the high-flying context of Boeing-Boeing, and the structure itself takes on its own character for the night.

Marc Camoletti's farcical tale of a not-so-forthcoming pair of pals playing lazy Susan with three flight attendants – of TWA, Air France, and Lufthansa employ – delivers a fast-paced, comedic romp. Many comic moments were brought to the fore by David Stokey (as the thrice-engaged Bernard) and Zach Thompson (Bernard's old school chum Robert), who attempt to coordinate the flight paths of Janet (Lara Toner), Jacqueline (Hildreth England), and Judith (Laura Walberg) to the dismay of poor maid Bertha (Bernadette Nason). Though the plot itself is rather stock in nature, Toner and his cast do a commendable job of utilizing devices like heightened physical comedy (think slapstick), Laugh-In-style door play for near-misses and close calls, and lots of furniture acrobatics to bring the sometimes-too-predictable script to life. Buffy Manners' excellent and colorful costumes likewise heighten each character individually but also unify the whole, providing an especially fun palette while contributing generously to the storytelling with flair.

The highlight of the evening for me was the fantastically funny work of Playhouse company member Bernadette Nason as Bernard's put-upon housekeeper, Bertha. Granted, the character is also probably the most well-written of those in Camoletti's script; still, Nason manages to put her own unique stamp on the role, going the distance to deliver a standout performance. Her mumbling, plodding, and meddling kept the audience rolling in the aisles throughout. The entire cast, though, turns in a respectable job with admirable team spirit, despite one significant, curious peculiarity that left me a bit drained by the evening's end: shouted dialogue. Perhaps the company has received feedback in the past that the conditions in its temporary facility make it difficult to hear the actors, or some other cause of auditory problems has made itself known. Whatever the case, I found myself consistently wondering why everyone was yelling at each other, especially in a play where there's always someone "just in the next room" who mustn't be privy to a conversation taking place 15 feet away. This one unfortunate quality weighted down what was otherwise an enjoyable production.

With that caveat in place, if you're feeling like an evening of funny farce, I recommend that you fasten your seat belt, stow your tray table, and jet on over to Austin Playhouse, where the friendly skies – and lots of madcap antics – await your arrival.

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Boeing-Boeing, Austin Playhouse, Don Toner, David Stokey, Zach Thompson, Lara Toner, Hildreth England, Laura Walberg, Bernadette Nason, Buffy Manners

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