For a high-flying farce, "Boeing-Boeing" spends a lot of time taxiing along the tarmac.
In fact, French playwright Marc Camoletti's comedy -- currently in a revival at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace -- really doesn't take off until late in the first act, when the slapstick that fuels the superior second half of this 1962 sexcapade finally kicks in.
Location: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, (630) 530-0111 or drurylaneoakbrook.com;http://drurylaneoakbrook.com
Showtimes: 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8:30 p.m. Friday, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday; through Aug. 4
Running time: About two hours, 15 minutes, with intermission
Tickets: $35 to $49; discounts available for seniors and students; lunch/dinner packages $50-$74
Parking: Free in adjacent garage
Rating: For adults, references sexual situations
The subsequent silliness, deftly executed by co-stars Stef Tovar and Dan Cantor, helps redeem this so-so farce about a man juggling three fiancees in 1960s Paris.
Piloting this breezy, bright production is Dennis Zacek, who has on board a top-flight cast of comic actors in Tovar, Cantor and "Saturday Night Live" alum Nora Dunn.
Zacek, longtime artistic director of Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater, knows his way around a farce, as evidenced by his irrepressible, highly entertaining 2012 Fox Valley Repertory revival of "Moonlight and Magnolias," which also featured Tovar.
However, Camoletti's play (in a translation by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans) is the theatrical equivalent of a puddle jumper: adequate but not very impressive.
Propelled by standard farce conventions -- illicit affairs, mistaken identities, unexpected arrivals -- "Boeing-Boeing" occasionally strays off course with aimless, unfunny conversations about sauerkraut, towns named Aix and power dynamics within romantic relationships, a cursory point that lacks satirical punch. Fortunately, second act high jinks offer some redemption for "Boeing-Boeing," which closed after 23 performances in its 1965 Broadway debut. The 2008 Tony Award-winning Broadway revival lasted eight months, and the London production of "Boeing-Boeing" ran for seven years. Make of that what you will.
As for Drury Lane's revival, it certainly looks dapper. The action unfolds in a swank apartment, a study in minimal 1960s chic by set designer Sam Ball that comes with half a dozen slammable doors, de rigueur for farce. The furniture, which includes a Barcelona chair, is made of white leather and Lucite, and the walls are butter-colored, the perfect backdrop for Christine Pascual's costumes: period flight attendant uniforms (pillbox hat included) done in primary colors and paired with matching travel cases.
The apartment belongs to Bernard (Tovar, a most disarming rascal), an American architect living the 1960s version of the bachelor's dream. In his fabulous Paris apartment, he romances three air hostesses -- per 1960s parlance -- at the same time. For the commitment-averse Bernard, a different woman coming, going or en route every couple of days amounts to the perfect life: one that offers all the benefits of marriage, with none of its drawbacks.
Romantic variety comes in the form of TWA attendant Gloria (Kara Zediker), a take-charge American with a surprisingly unsentimental view of marriage; Italian spitfire Gabriella (Dina DiCostanzo) of Alitalia; and a perky, passionate German named Gretchen (Katherine Keberlein), who works for Lufthansa.
A master flight schedule helps Bernard keep track of his mistresses, as does his long-suffering housekeeper and cook Berthe, played with deliciously deadpan disapproval by Dunn. Also helping Bernard navigate his increasingly turbulent love life is childhood friend Robert (the adorkable, highly amusing Cantor), a tweedy Wisconsin transplant who quickly embraces Bernard's philosophy of romance.
The performances feel a bit self-conscious initially. That changes once the show reaches cruising altitude, and the characters relax into their roles.
Tovar and Cantor are particularly adept at physical comedy. And Tovar is without peer when it comes to playing perpetually agitated, near apoplectic characters.
Unfortunately, "Boeing" doesn't measure up to his talent. If only it were a Dreamliner instead of a prop jet, imagine how high he, Zacek and the rest of Drury Lane's crew could have soared.