Sunday, January 22, 2012

Theater Review: Boeing Boeing -- Hartford Stage

Ryan Farley. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
Farce Fails to Take Off, but a Couple of Performances Land Safely
By Lauren Yarger
To fully enjoy Marc Camoletti's farcical play Boeing Boeing, you have to be willing to check a lot of reality baggage at the gate.
First, you have to get on board with the idea that a guy stringing along three airline stewardess fiancées at the same time is funny rather than offensive. A friend, in a pimp-like sort of way, refers lonely stewardesses, who already have been checked out by the airlines, for Bernard's romantic pleasure, apparently. All the work's already been done for him, he exclaims. . .

Then you have to pretend that while the women are in other parts of the house they can't hear major turbulence taking place with the other stewardesses in the living room, or that they are too stupid to figure out that not all is top flight in the Paris, France apartment (set in bland grays by designer David M. Barber, unfortunately reflecting the bland humor that falls flat).

Once you complete this pre-flight check and get past the unpleasant thoughts (sort of like a TSA screening), your logic will go on auto pilot and you won't ask simple questions like why does this 1960s throwback keep getting revived and why didn't translators Beverly Cross and Francis Evans at least call it Boeing Boeing Boeing, since three, not two, stewardesses get bounced around (in uniforms design by Thomas Charles Legalley)?
Providing entertainment for commitment-avoiding Bernard (Vince Nappo) in the Hartford Stage production are perky American TWA flight attendant Gloria (Kelly D. Felthouse), Sexy Italian Alitalia hostess Gabriella (Kathleen McElfresh) and Brunhilde-like Lufthansa employee Gretchen (Claire Brownell). Bernard keeps track of their flight schedules and juggles when they will arrive at the apartment with the help of his brusk, reluctant housekeeper Berthe (Denny Dillon), who helps him make sure the right fiancée's photograph is hung on the wall at the right time.

When a cancelled flight shuts down regular operations, Robert (Ryan Farley), a friend who drops in unexpectedly, finds some flight attendant romance of his own while helping Bernard try to keep the women from discovering each other.

In the 2009 Broadway production (directed by Matthew Warchus), Boeing Boeing was given a little propulsion by its cast. Mark Rylance won the Tony Award for supporting actor for his very funny portrayal of the hapless Robert. Making a lot of fun on stage with him were Bradley Whitford (showing a lot of physical comedy talent as Bernard), Christine Baranski as Berthe and Mary McCormack as Gretchen. This ridiculous play won the Tony for best revival and since, a lot of regional theaters have attempted to repeat its success.

Here, the cast, directed by Maxwell Williams, isn't able to overcome the weak material, however. Nappo doesn't infuse Bernard with a lot of appeal and delivers his lines in a projected monotone. Most of his physical comedy seems delayed as well. Dillon brings some much needed comic chops to the beleaguered Berthe. In fact, she wakes things up like the sound of the drink cart being wheeled down the aisle of a long flight. Even so, some variety in tone, like muttering some lines under the breath for example, would enhance the humor. The three women play their stereotypes well. Farley succeeds in bringing some fun to a character in way over his head, even though the script only gives him one liners or repetition of Bernard's dialogue with which to work.

Overall, the humor in this one needs some flotation devices.

Boeing Boeing runs through Feb. 12 at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford. For information and tickets, call 860-527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.
Meanwhile, don't miss an excellent exhibit of costumes celebrating draper Barry Seller's 30 years of creative work at Hartford Stage. It runs in the lobby areas through April 29.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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