If you ask me…
by Tom Holehan
“Boeing-Boeing” Lands at Hartford Stage
Marc Camoletti’s 1960s comedy, “Boeing-Boeing” is one of those typical London sex farces that plays for years on the West End and then makes another fortune in summer stock and community theatres. That was certainly the history of “Boeing-Boeing” before British director Matthew Warchus had the good sense to cast Mark Rylance in the comedy and produce a highly acclaimed Broadway revival of the play in 2008. It won the Tony Award that year for “Best Revival”. Go figure.
Hartford Stage has now taken a crack at Camoletti’s smirky farce with uneven results. Set in a sleek and fabulous Paris penthouse apartment (designer David M. Barber has pulled out all the stops here), we meet Bernard (the affable Vince Nappo), an American architect who is currently juggling a trio of air hostesses (as they were called back in the day). The women all work for different airlines and make up a United Nations of girlfriends: one American, one Italian and one German. His long-suffering French maid (a miscast Denny Dillon) acts as Bernard’s wing man remembering what the various women like to eat and keeping his dirty little secret well under wraps. Into this playboy fantasy comes Robert (wiry Ryan Farley), Bernard’s milquetoast pal from Wisconsin, who arrives unannounced and just in time to see his friend’s master plan come crashing down to earth.
Since the script lacks any real wit in the writing, it is left up to the director and actors to mine as much humor as possible (physical and otherwise) from the play’s inherent tendency towards low burlesque. By all reports this is what Mr. Rylance did for the Broadway production. In Hartford, director Maxwell Williams has a game cast with some good performers. Chief among these is Claire Brownell, who thrusts herself into the role of the German bombshell like a nuclear weapon. On opening night the actress lost a hair extension and without missing a beat immediately incorporated it into some delightful stage business. It proved to be the evening’s one spontaneous moment. I also enjoyed watching Mr. Nappo’s smug assurance disintegrate into full panic mode when all hell breaks loose.
Still, I found myself smiling a lot more than laughing throughout “Boeing-Boeing” and, eventually, it all became quite tiresome. Part of the problem is the play itself, of course, but Mr. Williams -- who had pacing problems with the theatre’s “The 39 Steps” last season, doesn’t put much fire under his actors here until far too late in the game.
That said, I must be honest and admit that mine was definitely a minority opinion on opening night. All around me people seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the show and the laughter was pretty much non-stop. It is true that a critic’s job isn’t to review the audience, but I have to be fair. The comedy pleased a majority of the crowd that night. I just wasn’t one of them.
“Boeing-Boeing” continues at Hartford Stage through February 12. For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 860.527.5151 or visit: www.hartfordstage.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.