'Boeing-Boeing' at Drury Lane Theatre ★★½

Nora Dunn in "Boeing-Boeing."

Nora Dunn in "Boeing-Boeing." ( / June 21, 2013)

A hilarious relic, the cheerfully sexist French farce "Boeing-Boeing" involves a Paris-based lothario who concocts a scheme to live with three gorgeous stewardesses from three of the finer international carriers, just by keeping a close eye on the airline schedules.

Miss Lufthansa comes in on a Monday and flies out on Tuesday morning. Miss TWA comes in on a Tuesday afternoon and flies out on a Wednesday. Comprenez-vous? None of the women knows about the others. A quick switcheroo of the rotating photo in the living room, a fast change of the sheets, and a man could be bettering even Don Draper when it comes to living the dream.

Well, that was true in 1962 when this very funny French farce (penned en francais by Marc Camoletti and adapted by Beverley Cross and Francis Evans) was first seen in London's West End (it ran for years). Attempt such a thing now, and even the handsomest gentleman would surely be reminded that stewardesses went out with the 707, that flight attendants are there strictly for your safety, and such a deviation from the norm would, most certainly, be an opportunity for a big fat fee from the airline. But then, part of the appeal of "Boeing-Boeing," the summer offering at Drury Lane Theatre on the wings of its recent hit Broadway revival, is a certain nostalgia for very different times.

Director Dennis Zacek's production of this terrific script, does not, alas, fly down the runway fully as it should. It suffers from an aborted takeoff — the far superior second act finds more of a tail wind — and, most notably, a lack of cockpit instrumentation when it comes to some of the desirable flight plans of destination farce.

Zacek's production, which is well stocked with skilled comic actors, contains several amusing, self-contained performances, including Nora Dunn as the laconic, all-seeing maid (a kind of female Jeeves with a bad attitude) and Daniel Cantor as Robert, the main dude's visiting sidekick, a rube from Wisconsin. That main dude, Bernard, is played by Stef Tovar, with Kara Zediker playing Gloria (TWA), Dina DiCostanzo playing Gabriella (Alitalia) and Katherine Keberlein, far and away the most connected and thus the funniest person in this show, playing Gretchen, who flies the wings of Lufthansa when she's not grounded in the boudoir.

All of these actors have their moments (Dunn fans will enjoy her, and both Cantor and Tovar nail some scenes). But the overall problem with the show is that the various eccentric characters seem to exist on a series of separate, stylistic islands, without sufficiently meeting in anything approaching comedic spontaneity. It looks like everyone went off to a separate room and came up with their character and then they all got shoved together, without the piece establishing the necessary communal ground rules for the romp. And thus the audience feels overly removed, which is never good for comedy.

One common misconception about farce is that characters don't change. In fact, they must. The character of Robert, for example, gains confidence in every moment in this show. Yet you never sense those changes sufficiently. You also don't feel enough of the requisite panic. Farces tend not to deal with great global crises — in this case, the tension comes from the question of whether TWA will find out about Alitalia — but in the little world under the microscope, that's life and death. For this farce to fly, the stakes must be sky-high. Here, they feel more like a low-altitude cruise, with occasional desirable turbulence.

The script is funny, and that's enough for some good summer laughs, and there is an elegant (although weirdly roofed) set from Sam Ball, along with glamorously retro uniforms designed by Christine Pascual. But my, could this show use an injection of ... well, let's see. Paris. Stewardesses. Bedrooms. A handsome playboy. The frolic of the jet-set life in 1962. You don't need to be a fan of "Coffee, Tea or Me" to figure out that the necessary jet fuel here is sexual energy. And that needs everyone in the same room.

cjones5@tribune.com

Twitter@ChrisJonesTrib

When: Through Aug. 4

Where: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Tickets: $35-$49 at 630-530-0111 or drurylane.com

CHICAGO

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