Boeing Boeing: A Delirious Farce

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Boeing Boeing: A Delirious Farce

James Whalen and Kelsea Edgerly

Posted on April 21, 2013

Let me get right to the point, commenting only that getting to the point is a thing good farces never do, because good farces, like the 1960 Marc Camoletti hit Boeing Boeing, in revival at the Rep Stage, thrive upon delaying what people are most impatient for and/or what they are frightened of. In Boeing Boeing, the thing Bernard, the Paris-based playboy at the center of the action most fears is that a unique arrangement that enables him to keep three “fiancées” in ignorance of each other’s existences will come crashing down. And of course that is exactly what the audience most desires to see – not out of anger at Bernard, who is rarely insufferable, but just because we all slow down for auto accidents and train wrecks.

To summarize, then, by way of a topic sentence – although of course summarizing is exactly what Bernard (portrayed with suavity but also increasing desperation by James Whalen) hopes each of his girlfriends will never manage to do. One, Gabriella (Kelsea Edgerly), an Alitalia air hostess, a vision in blue, as pictured above with Mr. Whalen, is passionate. Another, Gloria (Molly Cahill Govern), also an air hostess, decked in TWA crimson, sports a Noo Yoouhk accent and a stridently original take on the war of the sexes. And the third, Gretchen (Allison Leigh Corke) is what Brünnhilde would be like if she were wearing the lemon yellow uniform of Lufthansa.

So what it’s really all about is – naturally, what it’s all about is exactly what Bernard tries to keep the fiancées from understanding, abetted by his increasingly dysphoric and thus increasingly hilarious maid Berthe (Nanna Ingvarsson) and his old friend Robert (Paul Edward Hope), fresh off the boat from Wisconsin, who is torn between horror and horror-stricken envy at the webs Robert weaves when first he practices to deceive. Berthe’s French accent and Robert’s Fargo-ese add a polyglot flavor to the sheer mania of the proceeding, and no doubt gave a nightmare flavor to the almost completely successful labors of Dialect/Vocal Coach Nancy Krebs. The nightmare plays out on a charmingly 60s-styled bachelor pad set (a tip of the hat to Scenic Designer Daniel Ettinger) with doors for three bedrooms and a bathroom into which girlfriends are tossed with wild abandon, one or another emerging like a whack-a-mole as soon as a rival exits.

And thus, when you get down to it, the best farces – what was I saying? Until it comes back to me, let me comment that the thing about really great farces is that once they wind up, they become like three-ring circuses, with physical comedy (pratfalls and double-takes), character-based comedy, and the sheer geometry of exits from impossible situations being closed off, one by one, contributing to constant hilarity and nearly non-stop laughter. Of course, even in the case of the most beautifully-constructed farces, this requires a deft directorial touch, because the whole thing is always a soufflé of improbable coincidence, of characters missing unmissable cues, of perfectly-timed entrances and exits, of unbelievable ingenuity preventing inevitable disaster, of insults taken where none were intended, of passes made and, against all probability, not rebuffed. And keeping soufflés from falling is hard work. All praise is therefore due Director Karl Kippola, because in his hands the whole ridiculous confection never falls.

I seem to be wandering. Let me refocus: One of the interesting things about this play is that, after a great success in Paris and London, it flopped upon its first Broadway staging in 1965. It’s hard to imagine why. I was fortunate enough to see the 2008 New York revival, with, among others, Bradley Whitford as Bernard and Christine Baranski as Berthe, which was a deserved hit. As far as I’m concerned, this ensemble was every bit as good … So where was I going with this?

Oh, yes. Let me cut to the chase – and then you don’t really have to read the rest of the review. This show is a delight, an old-fashioned delirious laugh-fest. Of course, by the end, as in most farces, libertinage is chastened and conventional morality reasserted, and even Berthe the maid is properly compensated for the strain Bernard’s shenanigans have placed on her ethical sensibilities. But getting to that point we have not only laughed our heads off, not only witnessed the fulfillment, however temporary, of transgressive bachelor-in-paradise fantasies, but also been treated to something rarer: a visual reimmersion in the colors and sights of the most carefree part of an era: the coordinated uniforms and flight bags, the electric blue paint on the wall, the miniskirts, the smoking-jacket-and-ascot, not to mention the final payoff: a curtain-call that will remind viewers of the way singing groups used to present on television before rock videos and MTV.

Not to be missed.

Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn except for production photograph

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