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Paulanne Simmons

"Boeing-Boeing" Takes Flight at the Longacre

Mark Rylance and Kathryn Hahn in "Boeing-Boeing" by Matthew Camoletti. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Directed by Matthew Camoletti
Longacre Theatre
220 West 48th Street
Opened May 4, 2008
Tues. 7 p.m., Wed. thru Sat 8 p.m., Wed. and Sat. matinees 2 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m.
Reviewed May 3, 2008

Rob Howell's set for "Boeing-Boeing," which opened May 4 at the Longacre Theatre, is an elegant, ultramodern Parisian apartment with many doors. Pay special attention to the doors. They mean a lot.

A few minutes into the play, buoyantly directed by Matthew Warchus, the plot is revealed. Bernard (Bradley Whitford), an attractive, self-assured bachelor, has three girlfriends. "Less than three would be monotonous; more than three is way too tiring." All are airline hostesses, and all think he's going to marry them.

Each of the girlfriends is a perfect stereotype of the country she represents. Gloria (Kathryn Hahn) is a shrill, materialistic American. Gabriella (Gina Gershon) is a sexy but strong-willed Italian. Gretchen (Mary McCormack) is a loud, domineering and somewhat brutal German.

Bernard juggles his girlfriends through the careful study of airline timetables and the efficiency of his sardonic, overworked French housekeeper, Berthe (the show-stealing Christine Baranski). But when weather conditions and flight changes occur simultaneously, the system starts to fall apart. Hence all those doors to different bedrooms and different girls.

Newly arrived from Wisconsin, Bernard's old friend, Robert (Mark Rylance) becomes an unsuspecting witness and unwilling participant in the derailment of Bernard's love life. Rylance, better known for his Shakespearean roles, proves himself an inspired comedian, both in his perfect timing and supple athleticism.

If after the first fifteen minutes of the play many people first start thinking about the 1960s and then French farce, they would be right on both counts. Marc Camoletti, who wrote the play, is a French writer and artist, and "Boeing-Boeing" was his first major international success, opening in London in 1962 and running for over seven years and 2,035 performances.

"Boeing-Boeing," in its extravagance, sophistication and joyous illumination of male deception and female shrewdness, is delightfully French and farcical. The international view of romance is typical of the 60s.

Robert, who has decided it's time he settled down and found a wife, is at first appalled by his friend's behavior. But he gradually becomes ensnared by the drama and determined at all costs to save his friend from discovery. In the process he finds himself the object of the girls' affections.

Berthe, with her too-large black eyeglasses and too-straight, shoulder-length hair is the exact opposite of Bernard's girlfriends; she is straight-laced, humorless, sarcastic and openly defiant of her boss. Her no-nonsense attitude is the funniest part of the play.

"Boeing-Boeing" is filled with double entendres, misunderstandings, near misses and high jinx. It takes a while for "Boeing-Boeing" to get off the ground, but once it takes off, the show is non-stop hilarity.

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