By Martin F. Kohn
While airplanes are critical to its plot, the early 1960s farce “Boeing-Boeing” must pack sufficient boing! or neither play nor title will realize its humorous potential. And yes, the title was the same in the original French.
Marc Camoletti’s comedy, said to be the most frequently produced French play in the world (rub your nose in that, “Cyrano de Bergerac”), begins with suave Bernard (Jeff Thomakos), an architect who lives in a Paris apartment with six doors and has three girlfriends — one American, one Italian, one German — who don’t know about each other. Each is a flight attendant for a different airline and they are never in Paris at the same time.
Everyone knows that at some point all those women and all those doors are going to be in motion simultaneously. Boing!
Happily, Nathan Mitchell’s Purple Rose Theatre staging goes for the fast, the frenetic and the funny. One highlight: When Matthew David, in a star-is-born performance as Bernard’s unassuming pal, Robert, spies an object that would expose Bernard’s infidelity, he grabs a beanbag chair and launches himself toward the incriminating item with the heroic desperation of a soldier falling on a hand grenade to save his platoon.
For all his loyalty to Bernard, though, timid Robert discovers he is not above a bit of flirtation himself, especially when Bernard’s German girlfriend, Gretchen (Charlyn Swarthout), kisses him by, as she would call it, “mishtake.”
Swarthout, Stacie Hadgikosti as the American girlfriend Gloria, and Rhiannon Ragland as Italian girlfriend Gabriella play their characters as distinct individuals, which Bernard seems unaware of. What he does know, subconsciously, is that all his juggling and shuffling are making him a nervous wreck; Thomakos lets us know this right away when Bernard, as he tells Robert about his ingenious arrangement, gets louder with every word.
Michelle Mountain brings worn-out, comic rage (in two languages) to her portrayal of much put-upon maid Berthe, Bernard’s de facto accomplice; it’s not what Berthe signed up for, but a job is a job.
Bartley H. Bauer’s set, Bernard’s uncluttered (his life is cluttered enough), elegant split-level apartment is tailor-made for farce, allowing for maximum movement, especially with its two sets of short stairs between the hall and the living room. Not seen right away is a set piece whose appearance comes as a terrific surprise and in whose creation lighting designer Reid G. Johnson must have had a hand.
Christianne Myers’ costumes are well suited to the characters: The French maid uniform is a given, but Bernard is debonair in his black turtleneck under his jacket, and Robert’s hangdog expression is complemented by his dowdy brown suit. Each flight attendant wears a uniform of a different color and cut; same goes for their lingerie. Ooh la la.
The Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park St., Chelsea. Wednesday-Sunday through Aug. 28. $25-$38. 734-433-7673. http://www.purplerosetheatre.org.