Bari Newport arrived in Bangor on Jan. 1. On Jan. 29, she finally got a chance to go grocery shopping. To say she’s been busy in her first month as the new artistic director of the Penobscot Theatre Company is a bit of an understatement.
“I just kind of jumped in headfirst the second I got here,” said Newport, who also managed to find time to celebrate her 37th birthday last Monday. “But nothing is worth doing if it’s not challenging.”
In between meeting community members, planning the 2012-2013 PTC season and getting the theater’s financial house in order, Newport also has been directing “Boeing-Boeing,” a French sex farce set to open in previews on Wednesday, Feb. 8. While working with a new-to-her cast in a new-to-her job is, of course, an entirely new thing, directing a farce is anything but. When she was working in theaters in Georgia and Florida, she became known as the go-to director for farces.
“I really can’t help myself. I love putting people on top of furniture,” said Newport, who at Florida Repertory was the first director to bring to a regional stage Steve Martin’s contemporary farce “The Underpants,” which was also staged at PTC in spring 2010. “I love finding the farcical elements in things. I like making people do crazy things. I love the absurdity of it.”
“Boeing-Boeing” is a classic sex farce that’s been a theater staple since it premiered in London in the early 1960s. The story revolves around Bernard (played here by New York actor Dustin Charles), a successful architect living in Paris who also happens to be a shameless Lothario. He takes pride in the fact that he juggles three different romantic interests, all of whom are flight attendants.
Bernard confides in only two people: his friend from college, Robert (Dominick Varney), and his long suffering housekeeper Bertha (AJ Mooney), about the three women he courts. There’s the strong-willed German, Gretchen (Jenny Hart), the fast-talking New Yorker, Gloria (Christie Robinson), and the sultry Italian, Gabriella (Brianne Beck).
Of course, all Bernard’s schemes go haywire. It’s a farce, which means lots of chasing, tripping, pretending, hiding, and opening and closing of doors. The play has held up remarkably well over the years, despite changing tastes and social mores. The 2008 Tony Award-winning Broadway revival cemented that, and according to the Guinness Book of World Records, “Boeing-Boeing” is one of the most performed plays of all time.
“It had a rebirth after the Tony wins,” said Newport. “There’s something so fun, that doesn’t get old, about farces. But farce is hard. It’s such a fast, exact style. It’s very demanding.”
Those swinging doors — such a hallmark of farces in general, from Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” to Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off — swing continually through the show. There are six doors in total on the set of PTC’s “Boeing-Boeing,” designed by Lex Liang to be a swingin’ 1960s bachelor pad. Liang also designed the costumes, which evoke an era when air travel wasn’t all drudgery and metal detectors and actually retained some glamour. All six actors are game for whatever crazy stunts Newport asks them to perform — no matter what set pieces, or other people, happen to be in their way.
“I’m totally impressed with how well everyone has been trained as an actor,” said Newport. “They are unafraid to make bold physical choices. They’re all totally willing to go for it.”
So while Newport has had her hands full getting settled into life at PTC, it appears she’s been having plenty of fun doing it. And after a month in the Queen City, she has only reaffirmed her initial impressions of the community.
“Whenever I move anywhere, I look at the possibilities for growth and change and energy within that community. I don’t want to go somewhere where there isn’t a challenge, or new things to try,” she said. “I see Bangor as this place that’s about to come into its own, culturally. I see this huge amount of enthusiasm that’s gathering. I think the vision for the town is pretty clear, and I know we [at PTC] are going to be a part of that.”
Furthermore, as someone who spent the better part of a decade in Georgia and Florida, Newport assumed the adjustment to a Maine winter would be the toughest part of moving north. So far this winter, she happily has been proved wrong.
“The weather really hasn’t been too bad,” she remarked, with some degree of delight. “Is it always like this? I hope so. I haven’t even really shoveled anything. That’s not at all what they told me it would be like. I’ll take it.”
“Boeing-Boeing” opens in previews at 7 p.m. on Feb. 8 and 9, with a grand opening at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10. It runs through Feb. 26; a full schedule of performances can be found at penobscottheatre.org. Tickets are available online, at the Bangor Opera House box office, or by calling 942-3333.