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Theater review: 'Boeing-Boeing' at the Old Globe

March 21, 2010 |  5:00 pm

SAN DIEGO -- The downfall of a braggart. Ah, how we love to see it happen.

In the 1960 French play "Boeing-Boeing," the preener is an architect stationed in an apartment near Paris' Orly airport, which he's turned into a private terminal for the arrivals and departures of three stewardess girlfriends, each a secret from the others.

Bernard feels perfectly in control. After all, he has a master list of airline timetables, by which he can plan the women's comings and goings.

The advances of the jet age, however, are about to trim travel times and disrupt his carefully ordered world. Therein lies a terrific setup for farce, the realm where nothing is predictable and everyone must fly by the seat of his or her pants.

Yet the terrific setup in "Boeing-Boeing" does not necessarily develop into terrific farce. Or, at least, one that suits American tastes.

A Broadway production lasted just 19 days in 1965, even though the play would linger for 19 years in Paris and seven in London. It took a hotshot British director, able to whip the proceedings to soufflé-like consistency, to improve the play's reputation in the States. That was in 2008, when a staging by Matthew Warchus won the Tony Award for best revival of a play. Shortly after, his stagings of Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage" and the three Alan Ayckbourn "Norman Conquests" comedies also reached Broadway – making him director of the moment.   

Warchus' rendition of "Boeing-Boeing," re-created by the Broadway production's associate director, Mark Schneider, is now at the Old Globe, performed by a new cast. Yet somehow the play's flaws are visible again. Comparing what's onstage in San Diego to what was reported in the New York reviews, one can only surmise that the soufflé has fallen.   

The problem is one of proportion. The 2½-hour "Boeing-Boeing" spends most of its first hour and 10 minutes on exposition, then goes just briefly aloft in the second act before returning to the ground. It doesn't take much imagination to dream up endless complications that would cause the stewardesses to just miss one another, yet too many of these went unconceived by French playwright Marc Camoletti (later to deliver another prominent farce, "Don't Dress for Dinner") and his English adapter, Beverley Cross.

But let's focus on the funny, shall we?

French-language pop from the '60s establishes the story's setting at the dawn of the sexual revolution. A white-on-white apartment (Rob Howell's original design) is sleekly outfitted with chrome-and-leather furnishings.  

As Robert, the bumpkin who drops in on his old school chum, Joseph Urla subjects his receding hair to a lot of worried hand-tugging, but he proves much more adept at split-second chicanery than the supposedly worldly Bernard (Rob Breckenridge), who promptly falls to pieces.

The international assortment of stewardesses and a French maid (Nancy Robinette) are mere stereotypes of their countries, a thumbing of the nose that no doubt played well in Europe. As the American and the Italian stewardesses, Liv Rooth and Stephanie Fieger, respectively, take the hilarity to liftoff, but it is Caralyn Kozlowski, as the German, who keeps it aloft. Towering above the others and delivering most every line in a sonic boom, she is a walking five-act German opera – the closest thing to jet propulsion that this production has.

-- Daryl H. Miller

"Boeing-Boeing," the Old Globe, Balboa Park, San Diego. 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 18. $29 to $77. (619) 234-5623 or Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.