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Director starts pitch too high for good farce

Las Vegas Little Theatre’s current "Boeing Boeing" is a textbook example of how to play farce, and also how not to play it.

The 1962 Marc Camoletti script (frequently reincarnated and translated here by Beverly Cross and Francis Evans) is said to be the most performed French script throughout the world.

If that’s true, then the planet is in much more cultural danger than I ever imagined.

The story involves an American cad living in a swell Paris apartment (expertly designed here by Ron Lindblom) who is engaged to three beautiful airline hostesses: an American, an Italian and a German. (The different nationalities allow the author to lay on the ethnic jokes.)

The guy tries to keep all three in the dark about one another while they alternately stay at his flat. His failure to do so makes for the comedy. (Never mind that this intelligent, international man never stops to think that plane trips are often delayed or canceled.)

Still, it’s easy to amuse an audience with all the characters’ missteps, misunderstandings and maniacal energy. And Penni Paskett’s smart, chic, understated costumes give the eye plenty to feast on.

Director Walter Niejadlik makes a basic mistake in setting the pitch too high at the start. Farce needs time to build, to key us into the lunacy and to give the rhythms a structure. But Niejadlik immediately demands laughs.

The opening line has the beautiful, not-too-bright blonde American Gloria (Diana Osborn) asking boyfriend Bernard (Chris Hermening) if she should eat another pancake.

You wonder why Osborn is speaking in such an exaggerated squeak of a voice, and constantly gyrating her facial features. Your heart sinks when you realize this is the actress’ idea of playing zany.

Michael Drake, as The Best Friend (the role gives him no other real identity) boasts impeccable comic timing, precise movement and skilled body control. Yet I hated every moment of his performance.

It’s all about style and delivery. He doesn’t seem to have had time to create a genuine human being. There’s lots of sexual poses and physical business that might have worked just fine if we’d been made to believe they came from person and situation.

Curiously, the production provides an equal number of examples of how this material could be successfully put over.

As our flawed hero, Hermening – in a role that I thought went out with Bob Cummings – heightens intensity and emotion, but never loses a reality base. He’s an irresistibly naughty, befuddled child/man.

Barbara King, as a no-nonsense housekeeper, submerges her physical beauty in a stern black uniform, a frightfully cropped black wig, and a severe face capped with big, round school-ma’am glasses.

Considering the temptations to do so, it’s amazing how King never stoops to the laugh. All of her eccentric behavior seems to stem from her housekeeper’s needs and wants.

King and Hermening remind us that even stereotypes in silly farces need to be grounded in reality.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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