Hartford Stage's achieves comic lift-off with BOEING-BOEING through February 12

Jacques Lamarre

Three-and-a-half Stars

Ladies and Gentlemen, please return your seats to the upright position and securely fasten your seat belts. You will need to be belted in when you are doubled-over with laughter at Hartford Stage's high-flying Boeing-Boeing. You can safely stow your program under your seat or in the overhead compartment as you won't be flipping through it during the show. Don't bother to note the exits. You won’t need them as you sit back, relax and let this breezy French farce whisk you off for 2-and-a-half hours.

A recent hit on Broadway with a stellar cast, Hartford Stage achieves lift-off with its own production helmed by your captain, Maxwell Williams. Having directed The 39 Steps at Hartford Stage and his own play The Drunk in New York, Williams is fast becoming an adept stagesmith when it comes to comedy. A frothy farce that requires a sky-high, lighter-than-air touch, Boeing-Boeing avoids turbulence and delivers plenty of laughs in his capable hands.

Written by French farceur Marc Camoletti, the play is very simply synopsized. Swinging-60s bachelor Bernard maintains a Parisian pied-a-terre. Thanks to an extremely handy handbook with all the major airline schedules, Bernard is able to romance three stewardesses who all believe themselves to be his fiancee. With the assistance of his French maid Berthe, he is able to keep his romantic itinerary in the air until the women are on a collision course at the same time he is visited by his American friend, Robert.

As the playboy Bernard, Vince Nappo does a fantastic job going from Mad Men to a madman over the course of the evening. His suave facade with the ladies campily cracks as his plans go haywire. Ryan Farley, portraying Bernard's friend Robert, is an awkward delight and is particularly adept at the fast-paced physical comedy. Much of the humor in the piece is seen from Robert's point of view and he deadpans the role well.

Of the three stewardess fiancees, Claire Brownell as the Teutonic Gretchen is the comic highpoint of the evening. From her first entrance, Brownell turbo-boosts Boeing-Boeing into the stratosphere with her husky German accent and Amazonian physicality. Kelly D. Felthous is tremendously funny in her sexy, silly role as Gloria, the American TWA stewardess. Rounding out the trio is Kathleen McElfresh as the gorgeous, leggy Alitalia air hostess Gabriella. Unfortunately with a wavering accent that straddles Italy and Romania, McElfresh is less of the Gina Lollobrigida spitfire the part clearly requires.

Rounding out the cast is Denny Dillon in the role of Berthe, the put-upon French maid. Dillon shows some of the comedic flair that earned her a spot on HBOs Dream On and Saturday Night Live, but fails to get all of her role's engines firing. The script clearly indicates Berthe to be a crusty baguette, but instead she comes across, well, a little stale. Hopefully as the run progresses, Dillon will have more fun and make her performance broader. One could easily see Jackie Hoffman making much of this hammy Croque Madame of a role.

The production design, across the board, is perfection. With ABC's Pan Am tanking in the ratings, it is a welcome opportunity for audiences to board a fabulous flight back to the sexist 1960s without having to remove your shoes, belt, jewelry and dignity. Book a ticket on Boeing-Boeing before it is going, going, gone.

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