Rep Stage revives '60s farce 'Boeing-Boeing'

(Stan Barouh )
April 23, 2013|By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun

The only thing missing from “Boeing-Boeing,” the 1960s farce about a man practicing polygamy-before-marriage with three flight attendants from three different countries, is a disembodied voice announcing “severe turbulence ahead.”

Even without that warning, it's obvious from take-off exactly where Marc Camoletti's play is heading. It sure takes its sweet time getting there.

To rise above the broadly drawn and belabored parts of the script and generate something memorably comic requires more flair and propulsion than is summoned in Rep Stage's so-so season-closing revival.

It is worth remembering that when the play first landed on Broadway in 1965, fresh from a triumph in London (where it would run for seven years), it was a case of “Boeing-Boeing” gone — the show folded after just 23 performances. It was a product of the times that just didn't sell.

It wouldn't be until 2008 that it would enjoy success on the Great White Way, via a revival that also started out in London. Maybe in our “Mad Men”-mad day, it's more fun to revisit artifacts from those oh-so-swinging Sixties.

The Rep Stage production succeeds well in evoking that period, thanks to a vibrant (if harshly lit) set by Daniel Ettinger, finely detailed costumes by Jennifer Tardiff Beall, and, pre-curtain, a cool selection of vintage international pop songs (including the Supremes singing “You Keep Me Hanging On” in Italian).

Director Karl Kippola paces the pre-manic portion of the play too leisurely and misses opportunities to put a crazier, snappier spin on the subsequent slapstick. This is a piece that cries out for lots of surprises and fresh, colorful bursts from each character.

It's possible, of course, that things will get brisker and funnier as the run continues. If not, there still would be rewards. The venture is well worth catching for the chance to experience some very dynamic acting from Paul Edward Hope, who jumps wholeheartedly into the fray and gives the whole show an amusing lift.

Hope plays Robert, a green-but-game guy from Wisconsin with the quaint notion that he will find the woman of his dreams in France. He first drops by the chic Parisian lair of his old college chum, Bernard (James Whalen), a successful architect.

(In the original play, both men were French. The standard Beverly Cross and Francis Evans translation of Camoletti's text makes the male characters Americans, for better or worse. That translation, used here, also employs the word “darling” way too often.)

Robert is initially shocked, but certainly impressed, by Bernard's notion of juggling multiple fiancees from the airline industry, a process carefully timed to the flight schedule book kept close at hand. Ah, but schedules can change with the weather or with the introduction of new, faster planes — or, in this case, both. Let the farce begin.

Soon, there's a slew of stewardesses (the term was OK then) unknowingly sharing air space in Bernard's apartment, which has enough rooms to keep them separated for a while. Robert ends up dealing with the bulk of the consequences, and that's what gives Hope the opportunity to show off his knack for physical comedy and extensive arsenal of facial expressions.

Whalen doesn't exude the sort of sexiness that might explain Bernard's luck, but he does some energetic work when the complications mount.

As Gloria, the TWA attendant in Bernard's crowded life, Molly Cahill Govern gives a rather studied performance and seems to be winging a New York accent as she goes. Kelsea Edgerly's Gabriella, the Italian in this U.N. of air hostesses, could use a more vivid personality.

Allison Leigh Corke is closest to the mark as the assertive German in the bunch, Gretchen, a formidable mass of fraulein braids and imposing limbs. As Bernard's cynical, worn-out maid, Berthe, Nanna Ingvarsson tries hard for effect, vocally and physically, but often ends up slowing down this bumpy flight of fancy.

"Boeing-Boeing" runs through May 5.

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