A Flea in Her Ear by George Feydeau, in a new version by David Ives. Directed by John Rando.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"I feel as if I was bolting still."
Too much Feydeau is a farce That is, especially when so many elements of this particular play have been lifted for a "new version" of a different Feydeau play at another regional theater; having enjoyed "Ladies Man" thoroughly at Shakespeare and Company where they have basically lifted location and plot developments direct from this second farce of the season, one of Feydeau’s most exquisite and perfect plays, into the device of the other one.
A man, suspected in both plays by his wife of cheating with another woman, is confronted in situation after situation that confuses and confounds the other participants in the story. In "A Flea in Her Ear" the confusion is doubled when the lewd and lascivious hotel to which most of the players flee employs a doppelganger for the play’s central character.
Farce, good comedy, is not something to be spoiled by the comments of a reviewer and so the plot shall not thicken on this page. You won’t read about the many small bits that contribute to the laughter. You won’t discover, and have spoiled for you, the outrageous situations that make so much that is good about this evening’s entertainment. Instead, I will tell you about the players and let you find out for yourself why farce - when it is well organized - is such a hit.
Mark Harelik plays Victor Chandebise, the insurance executive suspected by his wife of having a mistress somewhere. His performance as the conflicted gentleman without credibility is delightful. He is often the "straight" man for the comics on stage, and just as often a comic figure himself. He has lightning quick costume changes to make and with the clothing come alterations in his playing style. He makes all aspects of his portrayals telling and funny and touching also. Unlike a few other actors who grace our local stages in the summer Harelik has the talent to pull off these differences and make them believable. And can that man run and jump! It is a stellar performance.
As his wife, Raymonde, Kathryn Meisle turns in a wonderfully honest performance. Her desire to be admired seems genuine and wholesome. Her seduction scene in Act Two as she fights for her honor in the "non-brothel" is hilarious. Her suitor, her husband’s friend, Roman Tournel is played with gusto and a certain delicious pride by Tom Hewitt who adds dignity to the art of seduction and an equal dignity to the act of denial.
As Victor’s palate-challenged nephew Camille there is the brilliant Carson Elrod. He takes the art of consonant-free speech to new heights. He also has the most limber body on this stage, contorting face, limbs and torso into the most outrageous shapes imaginable as he struggles to protect his image. He is matched by the outrageously over-stated performance by Brooks Ashmanskas playing Dr. Finache, another chum of Victor’s. Ashmanskas is much funnier here than he was as George in "She Loves Me" earlier in the season. He turns Finache into a flutterer who cannot control hands or head or hips as he tries to bring some reason to the proceedings. A very funny turn that shows off this man’s versatility brilliantly.
David Pittu and Mia Barron play the "other couple" who become entangled in this nonsense, Senor and Senora Homenides de Histangua. Just listening to them, and others, say their full name is cause for laughter. She has the sobering job of plotting and planning the setup for the hilarity to follow and he, brandishing a gun, takes that plot over-the-top with a thickly accented performance that makes his counterparts in other farces simply pale by comparison.
The two servants who complicate matters through a combination of jealousy and flirting are played well by Jeremy Beck and Heidi Niedermeyer. A British cad, called simply Rugby, is played with strength and vigor by a very funny Geoffrey Murphy while Tom McGowan and Debra Jo Rupp bring to inexhaustible life the Frisky Puss Hotel managers. McGowan makes physical punishment into something wonderful to watch while Rupp manipulates her body in such a way that even her fainting spells and verbal confusions are too funny for actual words.
MacIntyre Dixon as the hotel’s safety precaution employee has too little to do, but when he does it he gets the laughs he so richly deserves and Sarah Turner delivers laughs with the word "suspenders" and with her fine trick of ignoring others around her.
Director John Rando has the knack of pacing. The stage is never empty, but the trick of doors, so essential to farce timing, has been directed to perfection. This cast working with him have been so well prepared by their leader that even when mechanical functions, so necessary to the comedy, break down, they cover the error with a lightness and rightness and keep the audience aware of the tricks they’re playing to fill the time. Rando has opened this troupe up to the importance of rhythms and they can probably do just about anything and get a laugh out of it. Even broken crockery, damaged set and uncontrollable turntables did not deter this gang of players from turning in their best work. The normal five entries (doors, windows, etc.) seen in most farces are doubled here in the second act to ten doors or passageways and that allows for action that never stops. There are more people in more rooms doing more things than you can imagine.
Alexander Dodge’s sets are perfectly Parisian and the period costumes by Gregory Gale are both handsome and correct for their characters.
Played in three acts with two intermissions (and you need them both to get the laughter under control) the show runs a remarkable two hours and forty-seven minutes. It may be too much for one season to have two versions of the same basic Feydeau farce to see. If farce is your thing, see them both. If you’re not sure then see only one. It’s your choice. Both are great fun.
Tom Hewitt, Mark Harelik and Kathryn Meisle; photo: Andy Tew
Mia Barron and Carson Elrod; photo: Andy Tew
Tom McGowan and Debra Jo Rupp; photo: Andy Tew
A Flea in Her Ear runs on the mainstage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival through August 10. For full schedule and tickets call the box office at 413-597-3400.