|The Cast of "A Flea in Her Ear"|
(photo: Mark Turek)
“A Flea in Her Ear”, the 1907 farce by George Feydeau (better translated as “a bee in one's bonnet” or a “hair across one's derrière”), was not produced in our country until 1967, at the Loeb Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This is its third go-round at Trinity Rep. Set in Paris at the turn of the twentieth century, it's the story of a wife, Raymonde Chandebise (Phyllis Kay), who begins to doubt the fidelity of her suddenly sexually-inattentive husband Victor-Emmanuel (Fred Sullivan, Jr.) and schemes to catch him in flagrante dilectu (as they once put it in Rome). Farce being farce, (and this is widely considered the best example of the genre ever written), this of course leads to lots of deliciously unexpected twists and a pandemic of doorslammings.
Raymonde confides in her best friend Lucienne Homenindès de Histangua (Angela Brazil) who suggests that they test Victor-Emmanuel by sending him a letter from an anonymous admirer proposing a tryst at the infamous Hotel Coq d'Or (translated here as “Naughty Pussy” as opposed to the literal and much more slyly suggestive “Golden Cock”). He presumes it was actually intended to go to his best friend Romain Tournel (Mauro Hantman), who coincidentally has his eye on Raymonde. Meanwhile, Victor-Emmanuel's nephew Camille (Stephen Thorne), his speech impediment corrected with a silver palate from Dr. Finache (Richard Donelly), celebrates by taking his maid Antoinette (Alex Woodruff) to the same hotel, followed by her jealous husband Etienne (Peter Martin). Even Dr. Finache heads to the hotel for his own assignation. When shown the letter in his wife Lucienne's handwriting, Carlos Homenindès de Histangua (Timothy Crowe) also heads to the same hotel, vowing to kill her. Victor-Emmanuel follows him in an effort to prevent the murder. With all these characters at the same place at the same time, chaos reigns like cats and dogs. And that's not even accounting for the further complications involving the hotel customers and staff, ranging from Eugénie (Elise LeBreton) to Baptistine (Barbara Meek), Olympia (Rachel Warren), Farrallion (Joe Wilson, Jr.), Rugby (Steve Kidd), and Pocket (Sullivan again), a polyglot crew if ever there was one.
Ultimately, the loose ends are tightened as Victor-Emmanuel promises to put an end to his wife's doubts, that very night in bed. That's “ultimately”, as the first act spends a great deal of time in setting up the inevitable, and there are three acts with two intermissions, virtually unheard of in the present day. That places a huge demand on a Director and his actors to keep interest unflagging. As Directed by Tyler Dobrowsky, (Associate Artistic Director of the company), it has its ups and downs; how many of which depends on your attitude toward almost totally unrestrained exaggeration. The creative elements are fine, from the ingenious Set Design by Patrick Lynch to the very creative Costume Design by Olivera Gajic to the atmospheric Lighting Design by Dan Scully and effective Sound Design by Peter Sasha Hurowitz. The translation (by the company's Artistic Director Curt Columbus) tends toward the single entendre, rather than the subtler but often more hilarious double. One particularly egregious example: an actor repeats “shove it up your ass” not once but five times, which, as much of the text does, descends from the sexy to the smutty. One needn't be a prude to feel that, with racy dialogue, as in many other instances, less is more. But if this sort of way-over-the-top fifty shades of gris performance is one's cuppa, an audience member may well find herself or himself in stitches. Others may agree with the commentary by Raymonde halfway through the final act: “I have had enough of this ridiculous farce”. Whatever your place on the slapstick scale, in the end (and even that sounds a tad suggestive at this point), the whole isn't really the sum of its body parts.