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There's two people having breakfast and there's a bomb under the table. If it explodes, that's a surprise. But if it doesn't... —concept attributed to Alfred Hitchcock

Boeing-Boeing is a comedy, and a very good one, but it also gets mileage from Hitchcock's perspective on suspense. A woman's decision whether to eat at home or go out for dinner plays totally different when the audience knows there's another woman behind the bedroom door — and that neither is aware of the other's existence. It's taxing to worry every instant that one character could walk in the wrong door, doubly disconcerting when another might come out. In its production of this 1960s Marc Camoletti script (adapted from the original French by Beverly Cross), the Purple Rose Theatre Company has crafted a riotous flavor of thriller: five doors, three fiancees, and two hours spent wondering when the truth will detonate.

In his directorial debut, Nathan Mitchell has a keen sense of timing and a knack for developing moments between characters that pays off handsomely in this close-up look at bachelor Bernard (Jeff Thomakos) and his unwitting harem. A case study in getting the milk for free, he has amassed three international flight attendants as his fiancees, spending a few days with each during their rigorously scheduled, non-overlapping stopovers in Paris. Initially, Bernard luxuriates in having it all, and Thomakos elaborates on his deception with all the relish of a Bond villain (and some of the accessories: well played, designer Bartley H. Bauer). But with the advent of the Boeing jet plane, routes get faster, layovers lose their predictability, and Bernard finds himself on the brink of being found out — times three — over the course of one relentless, slapstick evening.

At least he has help from two co-conspirators: maid Berthe (Michelle Mountain) and new-in-town old friend Robert (Matthew David). Frazzled Mountain's exasperated tirades in French are barely distinguishable from her exasperated tirades in English, but one gets the sense that the exact wording is maybe not the point. David gives Robert secret cool under a lovelorn-dweeb exterior, making possible both flop-sweaty fidgeting and kittenish seduction. As for the love interests, Stacie Hadgikosti plays the TWA-flying American with vampy artifice, and Rhiannon Ragland is fiery in every respect as the Alitalia signorina, but Charlyn Swarthout takes the cake with her murderously stern Lufthansa fräulein. She plays such contradiction between words and expressions, and with such confident precision, as to wrench laughs out of no more than a glance. The huge characters of these women can come across as demanding and petulant, making Bernard appear more henpecked than fawned over — especially given Thomakos's agreeable, increasingly buffoonish portrayal that keeps the audience from simply reveling in his comeuppance. Mitchell gives enough weight to each character to ensure the viewer is torn between hoping he gets caught and rooting for him to pull it off, and the ultimate resolution is so oddly pleasant that it excuses its complete inconceivability.

With its dark wood veneer and deep-pile carpet in a sunken living room, Bauer's '60s-chic set has a splendid layout, and Reid G. Johnson's lighting design plays with natural effects like the suggestion of windows as well as indulging in funky party lighting for an out-there scene change. Costumes by Christianne Myers hearken back to the days when air hostess uniforms were mod and loud and very, very well-fitting. Quintessa Gallinat fills the soundtrack with period pop songs in French, to lighthearted Diana-Ross's-Parisian-knockoff effect. In fact, for the most part, Boeing-Boeing's design elements and the staging complement each other brilliantly. The result is a splashy comedy that flies by, with Mitchell's persistent combination of laugh-out-loud farce and seat-edge tension giving neither cast nor audience a breather. This viewer left the theater feeling pleasantly bemused and altogether spent.


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