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Six expert comic actors and director Matthew Warchus turn Marc Camoletti's predictable 1965 farce into a side-splitting treat. logo
Christine Baranski
in Boeing-Boeing
(© Joan Marcus)
Imagine going into a kitchen, gathering together no ingredients whatsoever and from that vacuum producing a perfect soufflé. In a manner of speaking, that's what director Matthew Warchus and a cast of six expert comic actors have achieved with Boeing-Boeing, Marc Camoletti's boulevard farce that stuck around for only 23 performances when it was first done here in 1965. This time, the side-splitting treat should keep laughter-seeking audiences besides themselves with glee for at least 230 performances -- and maybe even 2,300.

The altogether inane and utterly predictable set-up is that womanizing Bernard (Bradley Whitford), a Parisian architect, juggles the affections of three airline attendants (each of whom think she's Bernard's fiancée) by keeping a scrupulous watch on their flight schedules. On the day when he's unexpectedly visited by old acquaintance and total rube Robert (Mark Rylance), the scheme falls apart -- just as any member of the audience, no matter how script-unsavvy, knows has to happen.

As the nubile American Gloria (Kathryn Hahn), Italian Gabriella (Gina Gershon), and German Gretchen (Mary McCormack) -- all flaunting the short and tight skirts into which set and costume designer Rob Howell has poured them -- simultaneously converge on Bernard's fancy white, pastel-flecked apartment, there's nothing that he, the abashed Robert, or Robert's unusually independent live-in maid-and-cook Berthe (Christine Baranski) can do but propel each of the man-hungry women behind one or another of the seven doors Howell provides for farcical purposes. Indeed, Warchus -- who directed the play to great success in London last year -- seizes the play as an opportunity to stretch physical comedy as far as is humanly possible.

The leading farceur is Rylance, the only holdover from the London production, who actually gets the greatest amount of stage time as the kind of bumbler once played by Stan Laurel or Ed Wynn. Yet, Rylance makes this characterization his own, putting his rubber face and body and tremulous voice to work from the moment he enters as Wisconsin-born Robert. Looking as if coming to Paris already has him flummoxed, he becomes more so as he learns of Bernard's tactic and then experiences it falling apart. Before the situation has been resolved -- with a few deus ex-machina developments -- Rylance has been assaulted by kiss-mad ladies, battered by a beanbag seat, and repeatedly floored in the literal and figurative senses, while registering every startling turn of events with lips trembling and eyes shifting.

Whitford, best-known for his work on the Emmy-winning West Wing, just about matches Rylance with the hilarious giddiness he brings to Bernard, the sophistication-challenged narcissist getting his comeuppance. Skipping about the stage in complete chagrin at the home-based disaster Robert has fomented, Whitford is a study in male over-reaching. He's so amusing in his despair that he and Warchus actually manage to transform the macho jerk into a sympathetic figure.

Then there's top-billed Baranski, a nonpareil comedienne who nonetheless might not seem a natural in the role of a snarling but hard-working menial. Yet, she milks every potential yuk from Berthe's blunt put-downs, suspicious side-long glances, and waspish resignation -- all while using a thick French accent that dialect coach Deborah Hecht has nicely helped her perfect. (Howell also keeps Baranski in tight leotards just to make sure her great gams are on display.)

Lastly, not enough praise can be heaped on Hahn, Gershon, and McCormack; to watch the latter make Teutonic demands even as she becomes increasingly enamored of Robert is a highlight among highlights. So is the must-stay-and-watch curtain-call -- gaily choreographed by Kathleen Marshall -- which extends the breathtakingly silly dance of the sexes, empowering Boeing-Boeing to take flight.

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