Wednesday, February 8, 2012

theatre review BOEING, BOEING, Papermill Playhouse, January 28

The Paper Mill Playhouse production of Boeing, Boeing is one of those productions where you want to love it, but just can't quite get to that level of commitment.  It has a game cast, perfect set and fine direction, but as a farce that should be laugh out loud funny, while all of the elements eventually come together there is just something missing that would elevate this to the level of zaniness it really needs to achieve.

Written by French playwright Marc Camoletti with an English translation by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans, Boeing, Boeing was a huge hit when it premiered in London in 1962, running for seven years.  However a subsequent Broadway production lasted only 23 performances.  The play returned to London and Broadway in 2007 and 2008, respectively, and had a fairly respectable run of about a year in each city.

John Scherer and Beth Leavel
The play focuses on Bernard, an American in Paris who is dating three air hostesses of different nationalities at the same time and is also engaged to all of them.  He has no plans to actually marry them of course and none of the three girls have any clue that the others exist.  He thinks he has his life perfectly figured out based on the fight timetables for their three respective airlines.  While one is leaving Paris, one is arriving with the third already in the air thousands of miles away.  This way he has a different girl every two days and never gets bored.  His housekeeper Bertha tries to help Bernard, but she is sufferable and tired of the constant changes of menus and having to switch out the pictures and the linens every time a new girl has touched down and is on her way to Bernard's apartment.

Beth Leavel, Anne Horack, John Scherer,
Matt Walton and Brynn O'Malley
Weather delays, a new faster Boeing jet and Bertha's constant threats to quit all get in the way to destroy Bernard's perfectly planned out life.  Fortunately Bernard's school friend Robert has just arrived and he tries to keep the girls from knowing another one is also in the house, even when all three of them happen to arrive within minutes of each other.  Robert is really the star of the show and for the recent Broadway revival, Mark Rylance won the Tony for his performance,

Now, having never seen a production of this show before, I'm not quite certain what made the former runs of this show so healthy, but the Paper Mill production seems to be lacking the appropriate pacing that farce requires in several earlier scenes.  Perhaps this is what happened with that 23 performance original Broadway run. The play starts slow and continues that way for about the first 30 minutes, this pace means there are very few laughs in the beginning of the show except for a chuckle here and there.  While it might seem correct to let the show build to the all out insanity that we know will come later, it is just too slow for a comedy.  Director James Brennan might be thinking this is the correct approach, but if that was his plan he needs to remember this is a comedy after all, we are there to laugh.  The fact that he almost always has most of the ladies practically screaming their lines also forces the audience to suspend any sense of reality that the other ladies who sometimes are just behind a door in one of the other rooms in Bernard's apartment never hear a word that is being said.  Brennan also adds a little too much flatulent sounds in one scene that combined with the screaming ladies and the slow beginning turn this into a lesser comical farce than I think it could be.

Matt Walton and Beth Leavel
John Scherer as Robert looks like your typical American who is somewhat lost outside of his familiar surroundings.  He does fine with the comic moments and partners well with anyone in the cast for the hijinks but lacks a little in his natural comic abilities to really make this into the show I wanted it to be.  He seems to be pushing a little too much in several moments which makes it less of a farce and more of am acting exercise.  Matt Walton as Bernard is your perfect 60's man who thinks he can have it all until all hell breaks loose.  He looks great, is romantic and loving with each of the girls, but is eager to tell Robert of his exploits and Walton plays all of these elements of Bernard beautifully.

The ladies in the show are all pretty good.  All four are basically playing stereotypes of the 60's and they play them splendidly.  Beth Leavel is Bertha and she manages to ring just about every comical bit out of the part including a funny bit of a tumble down the stairs with all dignity lost, bloomers exposed and legs spread.  As the three flight attendants,  all three are pulling off very humorous accents, Anne Horak was my favorite as the German girl, all hard and rough around the edges and Brynn O’Malley as the Italian one was all fiery and passionate.  Both of them made really indelible impressions.  Only Heather Parcells as the American girl with a thick Southern accent was just ho hum.  But I think that is more to do with the part and direction and not Parcells, as the character isn't given nearly as much funny business as the other girls.

The fun curtain call
The show does end with an upbeat choreographed curtain call that almost makes up for some of the lesser moments that came before.  But while Boeing, Boeing is a fun show it isn't quite as funny as I was hoping it to be.  Interestingly enough, the sequel to this show, Don't Dress For Dinner is being produced on Broadway this Spring by the Roundabout Theatre Company.  I'm curious to see what happens after the events of Boeing, Boeing and I hope that it is more humorous than what is on stage at the Paper Mill.

Paper Mill Playhouse Website

Highlights from the show:

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