Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Flight Attendants, Prepare for Take-Off

July 09, 2008

Bradley Whitford and Mark Rylance
Photo : Joan Marcus 2008

Given the rather heavy tone of some of the other shows I took in last weekend in New York, I thought I would balance things out with the current revival of Marc Camoletti’s Boeing-Boeing at the newly-renovated Longacre Theater on 48th St. Of course, by this point, it had already won the Tony for best revival of a play this year, as did its male lead Mark Rylance, beating out some very stiff competition from the likes of Patrick Stewart and Raul Esparza. Even with that, I was a bit skeptical going in. In fact, I had passed over an opportunity to see this production in its current West End run in London in 2007 specifically because I couldn't imagine how it could be funny. But I admit I was won over in New York by this admittedly slight 60s sex comedy, though perhaps that label isn’t fair. Although the original production ran for years in both Paris and London in the early 60s, the play has relatively little in common with the kind of Austin Powers-inspired image of the swinging '60s Hollywood trades on these days. In fact, the play is just as quick to milk stereotypes of Americans and Europeans for laughs as it is poke at "loose" sexual mores. The content is, in fact, rather timid than what one might expect, and the paean to monogamy that wraps up the whole affair is certainly anything but wild.

But it is quite funny throughout, which is almost entirely due to a masterful cast including Rylance, Bradley Whitford, and Christine Baranski. I saw a Sunday matinée on the July 4 holiday weekend, and given that it was after the Tonys, I was sure that I would not be seeing this production’s original cast. But, as the usher informed the woman in the row behind me, we were in luck, and everyone showed up for that afternoon. Rylance has appeared here in L.A. twice in recent years with the Royal Shakespeare Company he led for many years, and I’ve known him to be a remarkable actor. Seeing him in a performance that lifts rather marginal material into something so spectacular was riveting.

However, I want to draw special attention to the three women who play the “air hostesses” in the piece: Gina Gershon, Kathryn Hahn, and Mary McCormack. As good as everyone else is, these three women deliver comic performances that are so physical and expertly timed that they are jaw-dropping to watch. All three command the stage and can generate laughs often with little more than posture and a few gestures. Remarkable. Like everything on Broadway, the show in its current format will probably only exist so much longer, so, while it may have legs for months to come, if you get a chance to see this particular cast, I’d act on it.

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