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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Longacre


  Scene from Boeing-Boeing

Broadway has never embraced farce the way the West End has. Noises Off has been one of the few exceptions, but the London hit Run for Your Wife lasted only a month on Broadway in 1989. Now we have Marc Camoletti's sixties French comedy Boeing-Boeing, imported from London, and Matthew Warchus' zippy staging is so much fun that this dated but hilarious show may single-handedly make farces bankable in New York.

The action takes place in the mod, airy Paris apartment of Bernard (Bradley Whitford). With help from his longsuffering French maid and cook Berthe (Christine Baranski), Bernard juggles three girlfriends who all happen to be flight attendants (or air hostesses as they're referred to here). There's the confident, toothy American Gloria (Kathryn Hahn) the passionate, moody Italian Gabriella (Gina Gershon) and the intimidating, Amazonian German Gretchen (Mary McCormack). By consulting his airline timetables, Bernard keeps his three gorgeous fiancees from knowing about one another. But it's only a matter of time before the worlds collide and Bernard's arrangement breaks down.

Visiting Bernard is his mousy childhood friend Robert (Mark Rylance), who gets caught in the middle of Bernard and his international harem. Since Rob Howell's bright set has seven doors, you can bet that they'll be swinging and slamming.

Warchus has been credited with drastically overhauling Boeing-Boeing, but Camoletti wrote a tightly constructed farce. It may have flopped on Broadway in the sixties, but it ran for seven years in London. Of course, those with feminist leanings will roll their eyes as the mini-skirted airhostesses repeatedly throw themselves at Robert. On the other hand, men of a certain age who tend to fall asleep at the theater may well remain wide awake thanks to the sexy actresses.

The whole cast is outstanding, but for me the scene-stealer is McCormack's uproariously Teutonic Gretchen. Once she arrives, the play really takes flight, and the scene in which she meets Robert is a high point. Rylance (a Shakespeare veteran who also starred in the recent London production) keeps Robert blank-faced even when he gets caught up in the frenzy. His low-key style is the perfect foil for McCormack's very intense Gretchen. Hahn brings back to life the quintessential TWA stewardess of the sixties, while Gershon conjures up Italian sex kittens like Gina Lollobrigida. (All three actresses look sharp in their red, blue, and yellow outfits, also designed by Howell.) Baranski lays on the Gallic attitude and accent, making the most of her sporadic time on stage. Her reactions to the increasingly crazy goings-on are priceless. Whitford gets funnier and more frantic as Bernard's polygamist life unravels.

Warchus keeps the silliness zooming along for a brisk two and a half hours. He does a particularly expert job with the physical comedy, and the actors throw themselves into the antics-no matter how dated and sexist they may be. There isn't any redeeming social value in Boeing-Boeing, although it does serve as a reminder that flying was once glamorous and fun. It's best just to sit back in the beautifully restored Longacre Theatre, transport oneself to the swinging sixties, and enjoy the ride.



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