If laughter is indeed the best medicine, then there’s no better cure for the blues than a rollicking romp of a farce. British farces, like the recently reviewed See How They Run and No Sex Please, We’re British, have become a particular favorite of this reviewer. The word farce does come from the French, however, so it should come as no surprise that English masters of farce like Ray (Move Over, Mrs. Markham) Cooney have their Gallic counterparts, most notably the late Marc Camoletti, author of Boeing-Boeing and Don’t Dress For Dinner.

Surprisingly, despite Boeing-Boeing’s amazing seven-year run on London’s West End, its 1965 U.K. to U.S. transfer lasted a mere 23 performances on Broadway. A 2008 Broadway revival, directed by Matthew Warchus, was considerably more successful, though, running more than ten times as long and scoring a pair of Tony wins (for Best Revival Of A Play and Best Leading Actor) plus nominations in four additional categories . Clearly, this most recent incarnation was doing something right.

Southland audiences can now see exactly what made Boeing-Boeing redux a critical and audience hit simply by driving down to San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre where a smashing new production is underway, helmed by the Broadway revival’s associate director Mark Schneider.  Blessed with the New York production’s gorgeous Tony-nominated sets and costumes (by Rob Howell) and a tip-top cast of comic actors to rival the Broadway originals, Boeing-Boeing at the Old Globe is an all-around crowd-pleasing hit.

Camoletti’s Don Juan-like hero Bernard (Rob Breckenridge), an American architect living in Paris in the early 1960s,  has found a most delectable way of having his gâteau and eating it too. Thanks to a book of airline timetables he keeps always at hand, Bernard has managed to juggle a grand total of three international air hostess fiancées, aided and abetted in this romantic deception by his disapproving but loyal French maid Berthe (Nancy Robinette).  

Each of Bernard’s fiancées shares his luxurious Parisian digs two days a week. Mondays and Tuesdays belong to perky all-American Gloria (Liv Rooth), Wednesdays and Thursdays to Italian bombshell Gabriella (Stephanie Fieger), and Fridays and Saturdays to German dynamo Gretchen (Caralyn Kozlowski).   Bernard reserves Sundays for R & R, or perhaps just R, there already having been plenty of R the six previous days. 

Boeing-Boeing’s frenetic web of a plot unfolds over a single day during which a pair of events rock Bernard’s heretofore perfect world.  The first is a visit from his naïve, nebbishy, perhaps even virginal Wisconsin school chum Robert (Joseph Urla), who, once informed about Bernard’s juggling act, finds himself at first aghast, then green with envy, and ultimately eager to emulate Bernard’s lothario ways. The second is news of the introduction of the Super-Boeing, a jet whose greatly increased speed will mean all new schedules for Bernard’s three  fiancées.  Add to that a combination of delayed flights and severe turbulence and you have the perfect setup for a master farce.

Act One prepares us for the frantic mayhem of Act Two when, as we’ve been eagerly anticipating all the way up to intermission, all three fiancées find themselves in Bernard’s apartment. Bernard of course, must find a way to keep them apart, a task somewhat facilitated by the seven doors leading off from the living room. (As in any farce, at least half a dozen doors are de rigueur.  Otherwise, there could be no hiding behind them or emerging from them or slamming them, n’est-ce pas?)

Paramount to the 2008 revival’s success, and that of the current Old Globe production, is the pitch-perfect tone set by Warchus and Schneider, the six-member cast’s sparkling performances, and the razor-sharp timing that is essential in the land of farce.

As Bernard, the marvelous Breckenridge is a suaver version of Friends’ Chandler Bing, suave that is until he finds himself with three different fiancées behind three different doors and no easy way out of the hole he’s dug himself into. Robinette is a grumpy delight as the housekeeper whose patience is being sorely tried by her employer’s antics, her existentialist “I’m here because I’m here” attitude slowly being replaced with a “What the devil am I doing here?” desire to scream. The sparkly Rooth is the very personification of sunshine and vim as Gloria, a gal with a blonde 60s flip whose every move appears to be a pose she’s copied from some airline advertisement or store window mannequin.  (Just wait, though, till this cross between Doris Day and Debbie Reynolds starts showing a kinkier side to her nature.) La fantastica Fieger takes as inspiration for her sexy turn those sultry Italian beauties who crossed the Atlantic to star opposite the likes of Rock Hudson and Tony Curtis in the 60s—think Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, and Gina Lollobrigida rolled up into one va-va-voom package.. 

Finally, there are the downright brilliant Urla and Kozlowski as Robert and Gretchen, roles that won Mark Rylance a Tony and Mary McCormack a Tony nomination, and like their Broadway counterparts, the duo steal every scene they’re in.  (Credit Camoletti and translator-adapters Beverley Cross and Francis Evans for creating the kind of parts that win awards.)

Urla’s Robert starts out such a cipher that you almost expect him to fade into the walls. Then, as Bernard comes more and more to depend on his friend to get him out of the mess he’s created for himself, and as Robert becomes more and more aware of his own power as a man, pussycat blossoms into tiger to such an extent that it’s no wonder at least one of Bernard’s honeys starts lusting after her fiancé’s Wisconsin pal.  Urla is a master of physical comedy whose scenes opposite Kozlowski positively crackle. Speaking of whom…  With her blonder-than-platinum bouffant upsweep, mile-long legs, and almost manly stride, Kozlowski’s Gretchen is every red-blooded American’s Teutonic dream (or nightmare), sexy, appealing, and daunting as all get-out.  (Think curvaceous six-foot Weimaraner in spike heels.) When Robert and Gretchen start falling for each other, Urla’s and Kozlowski’s performances rise to a whole new level of maqnifique.

Scenic designer Howell’s Paris living-room set remains hidden behind a colorfully lit scrim till “scrim-up,” the better to surprise and delight the audience with its gorgeous originality—an enormous half-circle of a cream-colored wall, a trio of huge decorative globes hanging suspended from the rafters, each a different hue. There’s pink for Gloria’s red TWA uniform, pale blue for Gabriella’s bright blue Alitalia garb, and pastel yellow for Gretchen’s rich yellow Lufthansa duds. The pink (or red), blue, and yellow scheme is carried on in the three air hostesses’ tote bags, the roses Berthe changes every other day in the vase by the entry doors, and other assorted paraphernalia. Chris Rynne’s lighting enhances the blend of pastels and vivid tones in Howell’s set and in the short, tight, sexy uniforms Howell has designed for the ladies. Paul Peterson’s impeccable sound design (based on Simon Baker’s original) features a mood-setting pre-show medley of French covers of American 60s hits, including “It’s My Party” (which becomes “C’est Ma Fête”) and “I Only Want To Be With You” (which becomes a quite-the-opposite “À Présent Tu Peux T’En Aller” or “At Present You Can Go Away”).  The production also features original music by Claire van Kampen from the Broadway production. Daniel S. Rosokoff serves as stage manager, assisted by Annette Yé.

Finally, it’s not over till the curtain calls, which San Diego’s James Vasquez has staged to a 60s beat with supreme imagination and flair.

It just so happens that Boeing-Boeing is set to close three days after the dreaded income tax deadline, which brings me back to my original point.  If just thinking about April 15 is getting you down, there’s no better way to raise your spirits, at least for two and a half hours, than by taking a trip to 1960s Paris via Boeing-Boeing. Trust me.  It’s a lot more affordable than a transatlantic flight on a 747, and a heck of a lot more fun.

Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego.

–Steven Stanley
March 21, 2010
                                                                         Photos: Craig Schwartz

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