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Paulanne Simmons

" Boeing-Boeing" Lands Safely at Paper Mill Playhouse

Directed by James Brennan
Paper Mill Playhouse
22 Brookside Drive, Millburn
From Jan. 18, 2012
Wed. & Fri. at 7pm, Thurs. Sat. & Sun. at at 1:30 and 7 pm
Tickets: $25-$96 (973) 376-4343 or www.papermill.org
Closing Feb. 12, 2012
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Jan. 22, 2012

Laughter is not very easily exported. What’s funny onstage in Paris may not be so amusing onstage in London. But French playwright Marc Camoletti had a success on both sides of the Channel with his 1962 comedy, "Boeing-Boeing." Beverley Cross’s English adaptation was first staged in London at the Apollo Theater in 1962, and three years later transferred to the Duchess Theater, making for a 7-year run.

In New York, the show was less well received, running for only 23 performances. But in 2008 a revised version arrived from London and garnered two Tony Awards and two Drama Desk awards. Go figure.

Now the show is once again on stage, this time at the Paper Mill Playhouse, directed by James Brennan and featuring Tony Award-winner Beth Leavel as Berthe, the long-suffering housekeeper of the philandering Bernard (Matt Walton).

Bernard, who lives in the swinging Paris of the 1960s, juggles three flight attendance fiances: the materialistic American, Gloria (Heather Parcells), the effervescent Italian Gabriella (Brynn O’Malley) and the strident German Gretchen (Anne Horak). With Berthe’s reluctant if not approving assistance, Bernard is doing a great job of keeping track of all his women and keeping them all away from each other, until a series of unforeseen events puts them on a collision course.

Fortunately, just in time for all the fun, Bernard’s schooldays friend, Robert (John Scherer) arrives. Robert tries his best to occupy one woman while Bernard takes care of another. For Robert this is alternately exhilarating and threatening.

Call it a farce; call it a burlesque. "Boeing-Boeing" is throughly funny in any language and thoroughly French. This production is blessed with tremendous energy and outstanding performances by Leavel and Horak as the teutonic Gretchen. While Scherer makes the unsophisticated Robert an appealing alternative to the conniving Bernard.

Despite Leavel’s over-the-top performance, one cannot help but wonder why Brennan chose to turn Berthe into a stout, sloppy and not very attractive aging woman. French women are seldom overweight and even a maid would never be caught not looking her best. I lived in France for five years during the late 60s and early 70s, and although I did not have a maid, I observed that my concierge often made me feel embarrassed at my lack of style. Berthe may be eccentric and overworked, but it’s hard to imagine her as totally lacking in feminine charm.

Ray Klausen’s set, with its many doors and exit/entrances, not only sets the time and place but also gives an immediate indication of how the comedy is going to be produced. Like those comic routines in which one overstuffed drawer is shut only so that another one can pop open, women are constantly being shoved into one room and bursting out of another. When will they come together and explode?

"Boeing-Boeing" is definitely an old-style comedy coming from a time when the peccadilloes of the rich might still be considered funny. Now we know that fooling around with three different women is probably the least offensive practice of international businessmen.



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