Chaotic comedy takes flight in Oak Harbor

When Duvan Andres Aaron Lopez is at work, he is a Navy plane captain, launching aircraft with the signal of his hands.

Lopez’s job involves a long checklist of responsibilities as the last set of eyes to make sure a plane is safe to fly.

Away from flight lines, Lopez is launching something all together different — his acting career.

He will make his community-theater acting debut playing the lead role in the comedy, “Boeing Boeing,” which opens Friday, Nov. 4 at the Whidbey Playhouse.

Lopez, 20, from Tampa Bay, Fla., has only acted in high school musicals but was ready to tackle a new challenge to “get out of my comfort zone.”

So, during auditions in late August, he made a convincing case to earn the lead role of the charming, charismatic bachelor Bernard who juggles relationships with three different stewardesses in a farce set in the 1960s in Paris.

“His suave demeanor really captured the character of Bernard,” director Dulcey Whyte said of Lopez, who carries an accent from his native Medellin, Colombia. “You have to believe that his character can attract three gorgeous women and keep them on his hook and Duvan does that.”

The classic comedy was written by French playwright Marc Camoletti and was first staged in 1962. It was later turned into a movie starring Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis in 1965.

Whyte wanted to direct the play because of its hysterical nature and the awkward situations that the lead actor gets in that makes the audience want to cringe.

“Feeling the pain of the actor when they get caught doing something they’re not supposed to be doing, we can all relate to those things and it’s funny,” Whyte said. “It’s really funny to see someone else in pain. I know that sounds bad but that’s what makes us laugh. It is bumping a shin on the coffee table or tripping over some luggage.”

Or, in Bernard’s case, getting engaged to three different air hostesses and counting on their layovers in Paris never intersecting.

Until they actually do, resulting in chaos.

“It’s definitely crazy,” said Christina Contreras, who plays Gabriella, the Italian stewardess.

Contreras, a former scare actor at professional haunted attractions in Southern California, also is performing for the first time onstage at the Whidbey Playhouse and, like Lopez, moved to Oak Harbor this year.

Of the six-person cast, four are newcomers to the playhouse.

“This is all my daughter’s fault,” joked Diana Collette, who’s never acted at any level before taking on the role of American stewardess Gloria.

Collette’s daughter urged her mom to audition even though the date fell on the 5-year-old’s birthday.

“She was like, ‘Mommy you should go audition for the play,’ and I just looked at her like, ‘Are you serious?’” Collette said. “She was like, ‘Try it out. You’ll be fine.’”

She was.

“The minute she steps on that stage, she’s just a firecracker,” Whyte said.

Collette, a registered nurse at Island Hospital in Anacortes, called the experience so far “a mixture of completely freaked out but totally elated.

“If it wasn’t for the people that I’m working with, the cast and the staff, I don’t know what I’d do,” she said. “They literally walked me through the whole thing.”

One of them was Tamara Sykes, who plays the passionate German stewardess Gretchen and is a familiar face to the playhouse stage. Sykes also recently co-directed “Little Women.”

Sykes said the newcomers in the cast are talented, have good instincts and haven’t needed much help, only moral support and encouragement.

Rounding out the cast are Eric George, who plays Robert, a friend of Bernard’s trying to help him out of his mess, and Tess Hightower, who plays Bernard’s housekeeper Berthe.

Hightower moved to Oak Harbor in March, transitioning from a licensed marriage and family therapist and professor teaching psychology in Los Angeles to a life coach practice on Whidbey Island.

George’s first onstage production at the Whidbey Playhouse was “South Pacific” this spring and he’s been involved in other productions, but none quite like this slapstick-style adventure.

“This one is very fast-paced,” he said, “a lot faster than what I anticipated.”

But not more than Lopez can handle, no matter how much chaos surrounds his character in a production the director rates PG-13.

The role is a fun outlet away from the more serious nature of his job at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, his first duty station.

“It’s been an incredible experience working with everyone at the Whidbey Playhouse,” Lopez said.

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