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Day 40: “Boeing Boeing” is BTS

Posted in Theater with tags , , on August 7, 2008 by Vince

I’ve tried picturing Bernard, the polyamorous architect of “Boeing Boeing”, smoking a joint with a troupe of merry Mormons, slapping each other’s backs over the delirous joys of guilt-free bed-hopping. But there’s too much of a swagger in Bernard’s gait, the suave bravado gleaming in his eye, not to make him an anomaly in a “Big Love” episode.

“Boeing Boeing”, Marc Camoletti’s ‘60s French farce about an American architect in Paris juggling his trio of air-hostess fiancées, mixes finesse and rambunctious slapstick as deftly as it does its martinis. Bernard’s is a harem to die for: the sexually frank, go-getting New Yorker, Gloria; the unabashedly romantic Italian, Gabriella; and the Teutonic dominatrix with a bust of gold, Gretchen. (Does Bernard perhaps fashion himself a postmodern Lope de Aguirre, his conquistador’s lust for Guns, Gold and Glory going for a woman’s El Dorado?) Add to this Robert, Bernard’s wide-eyed buddy from Wisconsin, and Berthe, the sourpuss housekeeper-cum-Hobbesian philosopher, and you have yourselves the perfect cocktail of erotic high jinx.

A virtuoso philanderer is only as good as his time management skills, which Bernard knows a thing or two about. He has mastered the flight schedules of his unsuspecting inamoratas, making Berthe change the decors and cuisine as one woman leaves and the next one arrives. In a rare moment of modern technology uncharacteristically frustrating one’s extracurricular affairs, a new, faster Boeing jet has been introduced, throwing Bernard’s timetable in disarray. Weather delays occur, and things get out of hand when the girls’ behavior does not match Bernard’s careful planning. Mild-mannered Robert comes to Bernard’s rescue, and not only does the apprentice wow the master with his crafty strategems and ruses, he’s managed to sample the menu as well. Meanwhile, Berthe – the poor little misanthrope! – barely manages to keep the proceedings from descending into domestic mayhem.

Mark Rylance won a Tony for his turn as Robert

The cast is electric, particularly the Shakespearean actor Mark Rylance as Robert, who dives into the role with verve and brio, keeping us on tenterhooks on what the undersexed but overly imaginative might be up to next. Then there’s Mary McCormack as Gretchen, who inhabits her like a Leni Riefenstahl reincarnated as a screwball comedy queen. While the material itself would seem dated in less sophisticated hands, but British director Matthew Warchus, whose West End dossier includes Yasmina  Reza’s “Art” and Sam Shepard’s “True West”, delightfully channels the ribaldry and slapstick spirit that made “Boeing Boeing” a phenomenon when it first came out. A laugh in “Boeing Boeing” arises from the frisson you get when titillation views with control. It’s the adult pleasure of knowing what sex is, then knowing – and enjoying – the difference between sex and romance and love. It is among the most hysterical – and most innocent – plays about the joys of sex even though it is, primarily, a sparkling abstraction. Catch it on Broadway while you can! 

Now give me Bernard and Humbert Humbert and I’ll be one happy heathen. 

Mary McCormack is no shrinking violet as Teutonic air hostess Gretchen