The air traffic controller of love
By Nelson Pressley
Thursday, April 25, 2013
No thinking: That’s the empty mind-set of the swinging ’60s bedroom farce “Boeing Boeing,” even though this peppy French artifact is fundamentally a math problem.
Follow the numbers. The play is about a single jaunty playboy plus three lovely airline hostesses who jet in and out of his flat, each unknown to the other. Now consider the apartment’s seven doors, brilliant white against bright blue walls in the attractive (and often breezily acted) new production at Columbia’s Rep Stage.
Those doors, courtesy of set designer Daniel Ettinger, are like helpful clouds in a friendly sky. But do they offer enough hiding places for our wolfish rover to manage all his covert female traffic?
If farce isn’t your bag, then you probably checked out at the bubbleheaded title. “Boeing Boeing,” by Marc Camoletti, was a surprise hit in its recent London and New York revival, despite being a Broadway flop in the 1960s. It’s also a 1965 Jerry Lewis movie, so you can absolutely rely on it being an insult to your intelligence -- a public service this flighty show is largely happy to provide.
Director Karl Kippola, perhaps seeking humanity in the inanity, at first seems slow to get on board with the sheer giddy stupidity of the script. The opening half-hour or so plods as Bernard the playboy painstakingly explains his brilliant scheme to Robert, a nerdy old pal from Wisconsin (who just happens to pop, unannounced, into Paris, where all this unfolds).
Bernard, rather straightforwardly played by the suitably dashing James Whalen, relies on an airline timetable to keep his damsels in the dark; as one woman takes off, another approaches for landing. This complex scheduling is over Robert’s head, as we can see by Paul Edward Hope’s cockeyed “I sorta get it” grin.
Robert turns into the clown of the piece, and Hope’s slapstick gambits and petrified stares are inspired as his simple character gets caught in the romantic revolving door. But it’s Nanna Ingvarsson, her French accent as musical as Chopin and richer than creme brulee, who first unlocks the show’s laughter. As Berthe, Bernard’s grouchy maid and reluctant accomplice, Ingvarsson slouches on and offstage with an expression so sour she looks like she might spit (which is something Hope, in one particularly desperate moment, actually does).
Costume designer Jennifer Tardiff Beall helpfully color-codes the flight attendants’ short skirt suits, putting Gloria the American in red, Gabriella the Italian in blue, and Gretchen the German in yellow. Allison Leigh Corke is terrific in the showy role of Gretchen, whose imperious dominance of Robert is instantaneous and hilarious. The other two women operate effectively in lower gears: Molly Cahill Govern has appealing New York pluck as Gloria, and Kelsea Edgerly makes the warmhearted Gabriella petulant, yet fetching.
It all flies for a while, although the bumpy landing features an awkward dance before and during the curtain call. That’s an unnecessary delay (after a full 21
2 hours) when all you’re thinking is bye-bye, “Boeing Boeing.” Been fun. Gotta bounce.