Saturday, January 22, 2011

REVIEW: 'Boeing Boeing' at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota

It’s silly, dated but definitely satisfying.

Yes, the comeuppance of an English playboy living in Paris still makes for viable comedy in the Asolo Repertory’s laudable production of the half-century-old farce “Boeing Boeing,” which opened Friday at the Mertz Theatre in Sarasota.

By French playwright Marc Camoleti, “Boeing Boeing” premiered in Paris as a contemporary piece in 1960. Beverley Cross’ English language adaptation opened in London two years later and became a huge smash. The comedy bombed on Broadway in 1965 but did much better in 2008, when it won the Tony Award for Best Revival Play.

The Asolo Rep’s staging, set in the late '60s, takes place in an apartment on a single Saturday. Six characters walk in and out of about as many entrances. The play amounts to frivolous, but commendable, fun.

Credit director Greg Leaming’s expert execution of the swinging-door slapstick. Applaud a first-rate cast that cleverly maximizes their respective character’s absurdities. Embrace the ridiculous rapidity in which everything from flight schedules to supposedly deep feelings and personalities drastically change.

Bernard (Bryan Torfeh) has a fabulous flat, a successful architecture practice and a penchant for international air hostesses. His three flight attendant fiancées are the ravishing redhead American, Gloria (Kim Hausler); the adorable dark-haired Italian, Gabriella (Angela Sauer); and the beautiful, statuesque blonde German, Gretchen (Kate Hampton). Bernard juggles his international harem of hotties — all written as complete stereotypes — with a trusty airline timetable and much help from maid Bertha (Mercedes Herrero).

The play opens with Bernard so cocksure of his three-timing ways that after breakfast with Gloria he’s scheduled Gabriella for lunch and then Gretchen for dinner. He’s gleefully gambling on a trifecta of sorts. Old pal Robert (Jason Bradley), a rube from the English countryside, stops by. Bernard brags of his multi-country conquests. Insists that his guest stay and witness how smoothly the deceitful operation works.

When things go predictably wrong — voila — humor.

The hilarity heats up when Hampton’s superbly over-the-top Gretchen arrives early. An unforeseen romance unfolds between her and Bradley’s wonderfully goofy Robert, who quickly finds merit in the playboy lifestyle he originally criticized. Bradley excels at physical comedy and Hampton gooses him along with guffaw-inducing grace. Their scenes together are the highlights of the entire performance.

Hausler makes the most of the mischievous Gloria, who explains that in America women run the household. Her lines surely worked better when they were originally delivered during the sexual revolution. Same goes for Gloria’s other surprises, which lack much, if any, shock value in 2011. Despite the stale material, Hausler generate laughs based on her chops as an actress, which are considerable.

Sauer sizzles as the super sexy and fiery Gabriella. She’s the most sympathetic, albeit ignorant, character in the play. Beyond looking stunning, and, like the other two fiancées, she does, Sauer exudes star power by refusing to allow her relatively small role to get lost in the speedy shuffle. When Gabriella demands something, you take notice.

Torfeh has the tough task of making Bernard’s meltdown reasonably believable and, you know, funny. He pulls it off. Torfeh doesn’t have the opportunity to be as winningly playful as Bradley but deftly pounces on each piece of humor up for grabs.

Herrero’s drolly realized Bertha remains a reliable source of sly humor throughout the play. The constantly complaining maid functions of something akin to a snarky, one-woman chorus. Bertha’s the sole character with which the audience must identify and Herrero couldn’t have handled the role better.

“Boeing Boeing” should probably be permanently grounded in the near future. Its comic thrust loses power with each year that goes by. But the Asolo Rep manages to make the relic soar, especially during the second act, which takes the audience to laugh-out-loud heights.

Click for showtimes/tickets.

Photo (left to right) of Angela Sauer, Kate Hampton and Kim Housler by Frank Atura/Courtesy of Asolo Rep.

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