Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Boring Boring

Theater Review - Broadway
Boeing Boeing
Written by Marc Camoletti, translation by Beverley Cross & Francis Evans
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Starring Christine Baranski, Gina Gershon, Kathryn Hahn, Mary McCormack, Mark Rylance, Bradley Whitford

Performances began April 19, 2008
Longacre Theater
220 West 48th Street

Mary McCormack and Mark Rylance (photo: Joan Marcus)
Comedy doesn’t get much creakier than Marc Camoletti’s farce Boeing-Boeing, which inexplicably is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most-performed French play in history.

Here's the setup: Bernard, an American playboy in Paris who is juggling three airline hostesses as his fiancées, is confident that his women will never be in town at the same time, thanks to the airline timetable which he keeps handy on his desk. Berthe, his grumbling but loyal French maid, makes sure that his pad is made up for whichever gal friend is scheduled to arrive: Gloria, the American, who works for TWA; Gabriella, the Italian, who works for Alitalia; and Gretchen, the German, who works for (you guessed it) Lufthansa.

On this fateful day, Robert—an old college chum from Wisconsin—arrives, and he’s of course shocked to discover Bernard’s living arrangements. But, good buddy that he is, Robert finds himself compelled to assist when storms and other acts of God conspire to make Bernard’s women all descend on his apartment this particular Saturday.

Boeing Boeing has the slamming doors but little else that defines good farce—too many jokes and physical comedy bits are of the eye-rolling, “is this really on Broadway?” variety. The show runs an excruciating two hours and 45 minutes, a death knell for any farce, which should be swift, frantic and relatively short for maximum effectiveness. (Even the recent Is He Dead? understood this rule, clocking in tolerably at two hours.)

Director Matthew Warchus and his designers–Rob Howell (sets and costumes) and Hugh Vanstone (lighting)–give the proceedings a bright sheen embodying the ensuing silliness. Bernard’s women are color-coded (Gloria, red; Gabriella, blue; Gretchen, yellow) in their perfectly-matched stewardess outfits, and Bernard’s apartment—with its red, blue and yellow lighting fixtures hanging from the ceiling and strategically-placed doors ready to be slammed—looks like the kind of bachelor pad that would host such hoary hijinx.

Warchus does better with his cast, which takes Camoletti’s flat, dated (and untranslatable?) humor and sends it through the air like so many supersonic jets. Kathryn Hahn (Gloria), Gina Gershon (Gabriella) and Mary McCormack (Gretchen) give high-pitched performances that would be too broad in any other context, but here, fit snugly: Hahn may be a mite too obnoxious, but the trio’s comic flair–especially Gershon’s endlessly trilling R’s, which seem to gain speed every time she opens her mouth, and McCormack’s towering Valkyrie–rarely falters.

Bradley Whitford (Bernard) doesn’t have matinee-idol looks, but he’s an adept comedic actor more than up to the challenge of increasingly more lunatic physical comedy. Too bad the usually indestructible Christine Baranski (Berthe) is kept on a leash with an (intentionally) insufferable French accent and a dreary attitude.

Best of the bunch is Mark Rylance (Robert), who gives a clinic on how an actor can mercilessly mug and underplay simultaneously. Time and again, Rylance marries some obvious facial play with a particularly zinging line reading, or an unsubtle bit of dialogue with a minutely-raised eyebrow. This Shakespearean actor even flops around the floor as if to the manner born; Rylance’s sparklingly animated performance provides Boeing Boeing with the fuel to reach its destination safely after an exceedingly bumpy ride.

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