By Mike Giuliano
10:28 AM EDT, April 22, 2013
Not every play strives to deliver profound insights into the human condition. Marc Camoletti's "Boeing Boeing" only seeks to prove that the human condition is silly. Judging from the laughter at the Rep Stage production, the audience gets the point.
This French play neatly fits within that culture's tradition of farce, in which the complications of amorous misbehavior reach ridiculous extremes. Set in an apartment near an airport in Paris, "Boeing Boeing" has a classically farcical premise.
An American bachelor playboy, Bernard (James Whalen), amorously plays the field in what he assumes is a clever way. Having studied the international airlines' time schedules, Bernard has figured out that it's possible to simultaneously carry on affairs with three air hostesses.
When the American Gloria (Molly Cahill Govern), the Italian Gabriella (Kelsea Edgerly) and the German Gretchen (Allison Leigh Corke) have layovers in Paris, they separately, er, fly in and out of Bernard's apartment. Bernard enjoys what amounts to the United Nations of dating, as these brightly uniformed young women never cross paths in his apartment. They're so clueless about his scheme that each woman considers herself to be Bernard's fiancee.
If this were a brand-new play, it would be fair to assume that themetically it should charge Bernard with being a male chauvinist pig and then give the three women ample opportunity for feminist payback. This is not a brand-new play, however. "Boeing Boeing" comes from another century, specifically, it's a French play that made a splash in the early 1960s, was adapted into a 1965 Hollywood movie starring Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis, and eventually was more or less forgotten until its unexpected return as a Broadway revival in 2008. Translated by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans, the revived "Boeing Boeing" was a success.
Much of the inane pleasure in seeing the play today is appreciating its value as a period piece. The Rep State production has a lot of fun with this aspect of "Boeing Boeing." Boldly constrasting colors are deployed for the apartment walls and mid-20th-century modern furniture in Bernard's bachelor pad, and the air hostess outfits likewise are in such assertive colors that they visually pop in a Pop Art-suitable manner.
The swinging behavior transpiring in that apartment now seems relatively quaint, which may prompt audience members to feel like social scientists studying the cultural customs of people who lived 50 years ago. This may lead to such clinical observations as that American men had no difficulty wooing naive young air hostesses whose frequent flier miles seem to have turned them into space cadets.
In short, "Boeing Boeing" is so politically incorrect that the only reasonable response is to laugh at this pop-cultural relic. Also, it's such a smartly crafted comic confection that it's almost impossible not to laugh.
The Rep Stage production knows how to make the most of those comic situations. Once Bernard is visited by an old American pal, Robert (Paul Edward Hope), these two men and Bernard's maid, Bertha (Nanna Ingarversson), are immersed in a dizzyingly complicated scenario after sudden changes in flight schedules.
Without going into monumental detail, let's just say that the seven doors leading into Bernard's living room will be slammed dozens of times. Bernard, Robert and Bertha try their best to hide the unsuspecting air hostesses in different bedrooms.
Various characters have so many loud arguments as the complicated overnight arrangements escalate that you can't help wondering how thick the apartment walls must be to prevent at least the raised voices from giving everything away. Ah, well, it's a farce and gets to play by its own laws of physics.
The zestfully extroverted performances also are warranted within this farcical context. Considering that some of the actors verge on locking into stereotypical cruise control, it's notable that Paul Edward Hope offers a more nuanced performance as a square guy from Wisconsin, Robert, who is bewildered by swinging Paris.
Although the director of this production, Karl Kippola, deserves credit for deftly handling the, er, air traffic control in this door-slamming show, the pacing for such a farce would benefit from being snappier. There's also an extended bit at the final curtain that stalls in a holding pattern. Fortunately, these are minor concerns in a very funny production.
"Boeing Boeing" runs through May 5 in Howard Community College's Smith Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Tickets are $15- $40. Call 443-518-1500 or go to http://www.repstage.org.
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