May 5, 2008 -- TWO words can virtually sum up the best reason for seeing the revival of Marc Camoletti's vintage French farce "Boeing-Boeing."
Unfortunately, neither of those two words is Boeing - they are Mark Rylance, one of Britain's leading classic actors making his far too long delayed Broadway debut.
As for "Boeing-Boeing" itself, which crash-landed last night at the Longacre Theatre, this always feeble piece now seems like a clever European plot for Airbus-Airbus.
The story twists frenetically around a once accepted belief in the infallible accuracy of airline schedules. This nowadays ridiculous supposition is essential to how the play's hero, Bernard (Bradley Whitford of "West Wing" fame), an American architect living in Paris, conducts his love life.
This involves concurrent affairs with three fiancée/airline hostesses - one from TWA, Gloria (Kathryn Hahn), one from Alitalia, Gabriella (Gina Gershon) and one from Lufthansa, Gretchen (Mary McCormack).
Also running around this whirligig of tired ethnic jokes and slamming doors are Christine Baranski as Berthe, Bernard's long-suffering maid and Rylance as Robert, his long-lost school friend, a sad-sack hayseed from Wisconsin, no less. Luckily, no one thought of cheese jokes.
The play translated by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans, wackily spins its revolving fiancées - each in on one plane and out on the next - until fickle fate finds them all in Paris together. Disaster time!
When I saw this revival, staged by Matthew Warchus and designed by Rob Howell, in London last summer, I thought it was terrible, but Rylance had already left the cast, and I was assured by some that he had made a terrific difference.
He does make a terrific difference. And it's still terrible - as repetitious and as tedious as a flea circus.
Rylance is an astonishing actor, and his command of that stock farce figure, the stupid acrobatic clown who always makes out, offers delight in every sound and grimace that emerge from him. I'd love to see him in Feydeau.
But the whole cast, particularly the agile Whitford and a beautifully acidulated Baranski, as the game but aging French maid, prove to be accomplished farceurs. The problem is they don't have much of a farce to be accomplished in.
The playbill triumphantly tells us that the original production in the Sixties ran in London for seven years. What it doesn't add is that the Broadway production in 1965 only clocked up 43 performances.
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