EVEN in vintage Hollywood, to have a couple ``meet cute'' was an art form. You can't meet any cuter than to have a platinum blond studio waitress who has fainted in a producer's office after serving chicken soup be discovered by a British movie extra in a Buckingham Palace bearskin hat. The extra has just been fired by C.F., the producer, for insubordination; he'd complained that the hat was the only authentic part of his uniform in the musical ``Young England.'' The chicken soup, incidentally, took nine chickens to make to C.F.'s specifications. But I'm getting ahead of my story, or, rather, Sam and Bella Spewack's story. For it was those legendary playwrights who dashed off ``Boy Meets Girl,'' this delicious satire on the palmy days in Hollywood, circa 1935. It was a hit on Broadway then, and, in its latest revival, by the Acting Company, it's still endearingly funny. Half a century later it comes up crisp and fresh as a head of romaine lettuce after an ice water bath.
``Boy Meets Girl'' has moved to New York after a brief run here in Washington at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. It will be performed at the Marymount Manhattan Theater from May 30 through June 3, following the Acting Company's production of ``Love's Labour's Lost'' (not seen here) and a one-time performance June 4 of ``The Phantom Tollbooth,'' part of the company's Young Audience Project. The Acting Company, founded by John Houseman and Margot Harley, is a professional repertory theater which tours nationwide.
``I want a lap dissolve of Queen Victoria,'' roars C.F., and we are off on what Hollywood used to call a screwball comedy, this one with a romantic spin. As J. Carlyle Benson, the ennui-glazed older screenwriter, explains, all such stories are about boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. As the play unfurls in C.F.'s office, the boy and co-writer Robert Law are trying to do a script for is its vain cowboy star, Larry Toms. Or, as Law snaps, ``I'm writing dialogue for a horse.''
When pregnant Susie, the waitress, faints, the plot thickens. The writers, juggling scenarios like oranges, decide to make Suzie and her forthcoming baby, Happy, the co-stars of Larry Toms's new cowboy movie.
It's a take. In fact it's so successful that Happy, ``the little trouper,'' becomes the box office hit, eclipsing Toms. The cowboy decides to hitch up with Susie because, as Happy's father, he'd be guardian of the baby millionaire.
But boy loses girl; when Rodney, the extra, suddenly reappears in a zany plot twist, Susie sends the cowboy off into the sunset. And boy gets girl: Rodney the English extra, smitten with Susie since the first teaspoon of chicken soup, reveals that he's a wealthy English lord and asks her to marry him. Pure Hollywood.
This frothy comedy, directed in larky style by Brian Murray, has a cast that fairly crackles with energy. Douglas Krizner is wonderful as the witty, blas'e screenwriter Benson, who wears his eyelids at half-mast like a ``Doonesbury'' character. Larry Green plays his sidekick, Robert Law, with vigor.
Spencer Beckwith, as the sweetly bumbling Rodney Bevan, turns in a subtle but very funny performance, romantically in sync with Laura Perrotta's accomplished acting in the role of Susie. Spacey but lovable, she dreams of going to high school and announces she will call her baby ``Happy, even if he's a girl, because I want him to be happy even if he's a girl.'' Suzie gets some of the Spewacks' best lines: ``I like the way the English talk. It's so soothing.''
Among the others in a talented cast: Anthony Cummings as the gilded cowboy; John Greenleaf as his weasly agent, Rosetti; John Tillotson as an amusing C.F. (C. Elliot Friday); Martha Thompson as his droll secretary, Miss Crews (who manages to look like early Betty Crocker with a steno pad); and Gayla Finer, who plays, among other roles, a delightful nail-biting manicurist. The voice of Hollywood is supplied on tape by Kevin Kline, an Acting Company alumnus, and the voice of mogul B.K. by Robin Williams.
Also, roll the credits for Brian Murray's '30s Hollywood-moderne set, done in Technicolor aqua with quilted doors, and Jennifer von Mayrhauser's swell period costumes; ('30s hit songs like ``Thou Swell,'' ``Someone to Watch Over Me,'' and ``Why Do I Love You'' filter through the air).
``Boy Meets Girl'' is an Acting Company co-production with the Repertory Theater of St. Louis, where it had a run last October as part of its 35-city tour. Since the Acting Company is an official touring arm of the Kennedy Center, the mystery is why such a good show did not open here instead, for a longer run.