Thursday, April 24, 2008

New York, Spring 2008 -- Day Eight, "The Four of Us" and "Boeing Boeing"

Another day, another Van Morrison song. Yesterday, "Adding Machine" put me in mind of "Precious Time." Today's matinee, "The Four of Us" put Van's "Professional Jealousy" in my head. Despite its title, "The Four of Us" is a two-hander, concerning two twenty-something writers, Benjamin and David. On holiday in Prague, David writes a play and Benjamin works on a novel. They enter into an agreement -- when David has a play produced, or Ben's novel is published, the other will buy lunch. Both end up picking up a check, but the equality ends there, for David's play is produced by a small theater in the Midwest, while Ben's novel provides him with a $2 million advance (including movie rights).

While this is ripe territory for drama, most of the juicy bits get left on the table. The green monster never rises to his full height, never breathes the fire of envy. He merely sticks a nostril above the surface, flashes one shiny fang, then slips back into the deep. Ben and David argue, but never with any real teeth. The jealousy David might feel comes out in an angry outburst during a Q&A session following a reading of his play, but Ben's not really a part of it.

In all, a rather bland, unsatisfying afternoon.

"Boeing Boeing" on the other hand, has nothing but satisfaction on its mind. A classic French farce (which has been filmed twice, once in French in 1960 and once in English -- with Jerry Lewis -- in 1965), "Boeing Boeing" is filled with slamming doors, missed connections and broad physical comedy.

The story concerns Bernard (Bradley Whitford, of "West Wing" fame), a successful architect living in Paris who is managing to juggle three women who all think they are the only one. Each is a stewardess for a different international airline, each on a different schedule. Bernard's old school chum, Robert, shows up on the same day that a new jet goes into service, throwing off Bernard's timetable perfection in scheduling the exit of one fiancee with the entrance of the other.

Christine Baranski is miscast as Berthe, Bernard's long-suffering maid, but Whitford is terrific, and Mark Rylance is hysterical as Robert. Robert is from Wisconsin, and his slow-talking, simple ways stand in perfect contrast to Bernard's playboy smoothness. Rylance (in photo above) originated the role in the London production of the show, and I'm so glad he crossed the pond to reprise it at the Longacre.

I have a feeling "Boeing Boeing" may not strike a chord with New York's critics, but audiences are going to devour this tasty concoction of retro-humor from the dawn of the sexual revolution.

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