BWW Review: A FLEA IN HER EAR at UD Rep Ensemble
Artistic Director Sandy Robbins comments in the Program Notes that any director would prefer staging KING LEAR rather than A FLEA IN HER EAR.
LEAR is US Rt. 80 going straight through Nebraska. FLEA is Pikes Peak.
The choreography of having two people twirling and then trying to put on the same jacket, the head on a swivel 'fight' scenes, the pinpoint timing of doors slamming, lazy susan revolving bedrooms, the lamentable language problems with consonants, 'the ol' in and out' and the Frisky Puss Hotel (yes, Frisky Puss. More on that later). All this hellzapoppin' hysteria is born out in Rep Ensemble's presentation. FLEA is NOISES OFF set in France in the 1900's. (Coincidentally, the latter is opening at The Walnut this month).
Written by Georges Feydeau during La Belle Époque, an era after The Franco-German War in 1871 and before the horrors of WWI. In the climate of the period, especially in Paris, the arts flourished. Many masterpieces of literature, music, theater, and visual art gained recognition.
Aisle Say repeatedly asserts that REP does farce best. Act 1 must go down in the annals as the most hilarious first act ever staged at The Roselle Center. FLEA is hereby elevated to one of Aisle Say's Top 10 productions in REP's illustrious legacy. Co-produced by the prestigious CT Westport County Playhouse, the production will travel there in July. Director Mark Lamos of Westport has prodigious credits on Broadway, off-Broadway and opera. Lamos' sense of humor - and timing - is equally prodigious.
The elegant Raymonde Chandebise (Elizabeth Heflin) has a 'flea in her ear'. She thinks her husband Victor (Lee Ernst) is unfaithful. Of late, it seems he has a weak willy. (Yes, I said it here!). She and her friend Lucienne (Lucy) (Antoinette Robinson) hatch a plan to uncover the truth.
An off-center member of the family Chandebise is nephew Camille (Mic Matarrese) who has a major problem mouthing consonants and is almost totally incomprehensible. The disability is exacerbated at a crucial time in a tete a tete avec Romain Tournel (Stephen Pelinski). (I don't know what this says about me, but I understood what Camille was saying almost from the second sentence)! An involuntary spasm of laughter erupted from the audience when Dr. Finache (Hassen El-Amin) gave the poor man a prosthetic to place in his mouth to rectify the aural handicap. (Sadly, for Camille, that was soon lost (the prosthetic) and he reverted back to the unintelligible). Oh, my. Just too funny.
Raymonde and Lucy's plan involves a love letter penned by Lucy to Victor suggesting they meet secretly at The Frisky Puss, a place where all guests are married, just not to each other. Lucy must write the letter to Victor, for of course, he would recognize Raymonde's handwriting. Alas, plans go south...rapidement!
Lucy's husband, the outrageously jealous Don Carlos de Histangua (Michael Gotch) enters seeking his wife. He reads the letter of enticement and demands justice for this dishonor . Gotch's 'take' on when he saw his wife's handwriting on the letter to Victor was priceless. His postures, his accent, his caricature of a cuckolded Don Juan is over the top - in a very good way. The way he used his fingers reminded me of Edward Scissorhands.
Act II took place is this house of ill repute, The Frisky Puss; the rascal proprietor is Ferraillon (John Rensenhouse). (Beware gentle readers, the show is risqué: to wit, there is a lot of 'the 'ol in and out' in The Frisky Puss).
Absurd mayhem now takes over. The doorman for The Frisky Puss, the drowsy Pouche (a cross between Lou Costello and Foster Brooks), happens to be (Sacre Bleu) an absolute dead ringer for Victor Chandebise. (Ernst plays both parts).
Ferraillon does not suffer Pouche's attraction to brandy and rewards him with many hits to la derriere. When Victor appears at Frisky, Ferraillon takes him for Pouche and exacts the same punishment on the courtly and unsuspecting Victor.
Harkening back to the challenges of farce, Ernst's costume changes were whirlwind. (That takes a lot of rehearsal)! All the characters are now confusing Victor for Pouche and Pouche for Victor, resulting in frantic, frenetic hilarity. Add to that the fact that Don Carlos has a gun and is frothing at the mouth to annihilate the man having an affair with Lucy.
One bit with Poche was absurdist classic. Dr. Finache attempts to hypnotize Pouche with the typical pocket watch swinging back and forth. He stands behind the pauvre Pouche. Ernst waves his tongue in rhythm with the watch, back and forth back and forth. Ernst is perhaps one of the only actors blessed with great tongue-eye coordination.
Don Carlos' resolution for dishonor? A duel with Victor, mais oui. Every farce should have a duel. (In farce, it's a lot about the little things that make the action somewhat plausible...somewhat. It certainly adds to the fun).
The credits of the Creative Crew continue to astound, in serious contradistinction to the less than $30 ticket. I mean, really people, how many times must I say REP does Broadway-quality productions!
Scenic Designer Kristen Robinson had to create a portable piece. Costume Designs by Sara Jean Tosetti were so so very soignee. Lighting Designer Matthew Richards, Sound Designer Fitz Patton. All these pros have major off-Broadway and Broadway credits.
Through Mar 18. Rep.Udel.edu 302.831.2204
Final show of the season: TWELFTH NIGHT April 19