Friday, January 21, 2011

'Boeing Boeing' takes off

I love farce — in a weird kind of way. For me, it’s like a sustained anxiety attack punctuated by bursts of hyena laughter. I wait for the wrong babe to come out of the wrong door at the wrong time and sorta cover my face with my hands and fold up like a jackknife. Then, when the suspense is relieved, I howl. Perhaps this has something to do with early childhood traumas, I dunno. But I love the emotional roller coaster.

When it’s done right, of course.

The Asolo Rep’s current production of Boeing Boeing does it right. Greg Leaming directs and really gets the rhythms of the comic music down.

The play is from the swinging '60s — a French farce by Marc Camoletti the Brits translated and took to heart and Americans never got into. (A shitty Jerry Lewis movie may have had something to do with it. Not sure what the French thought about that.) Like Austin Powers, it’s been unfrozen and reheated and works just fine today.

The plot: there’s a cad of a Frenchman (Bernard, played by Bryan Torfeh) who’s simultaneously engaged to three stewardesses on different airlines and routes. Thanks to a long-suffering maid (Mercedes Herrero), a book of air flight schedules, a day planner and rotating photographs, Bernard romances them all in sequence in a juggling act of serial polygamy. They’re none the wiser; nothing could possibly go wrong. Yeah, right. The Boeing company invents a faster plane engine and his scheme is shot to hell. This happens when Robert (Jason Bradley) his naïve friend from Aix (don’t axe me how to pronounce it) shows up. Comedy ensues.

Bryan Torfeh is very funny. If a mad scientist mixed the DNA of John Cleese and Nathan Lane, he might be the result. His character starts out cool and smug and ends up a puddle of fear. Robert, his nerdy pal, starts out insecure and ends up confident — another great performance from Bradley. The stewardesses steal the show — all nicely individualized on page and stage, unapologetically, truly, deeply sexy. (Body language is, after all, a weapon. Bernard thinks he’s in charge, but he’s putty in their hands.) Kim Hausler is a hoot as the American stewardess — a Minnesota accent straight out of Prairie Home Companion but hardly a Lutheran attitude. She has a hilarious speech to the effect that American men are babies. Angela Sauer is drop-dead gorgeous as Gabriella, the Italian stewardess in an Op-Art dress (and stockings) you'd best put on sunglasses to look at. Fine comic timing. Kate Hampton plays the German stewardess — who quotes the Nibelungen and cracks the whip of dominance in a Lili Von Shtupp/Marlena Deitrich sense. (I suspect this reflects the deep trauma the French endured in W.W. II) Herrero is excellent as the maid — the eye at the center of the hurricane — the sane person holding all the insanity together and getting sick of it.

As said, I love farce. Perhaps it's the lack of judgment. Farce is ultimately forgiving. People are dirty rotten scoundrels. (Coincidentally, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels stole much of its tone from this play.) Farce laughs, but ultimately doesn’t want to see punishment. It just wants laughs. This production delivers.

Big fun.

Don’t miss the flight.

Boeing Boeing
Through April 23
An Asolo Rep production
FSU Center for the Arts
5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota

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