BWW Reviews: Fast and Furious Fun at Trinity Rep's A FLEA IN HER EAR
Door-slamming farce can be a tough beast to tame. There's often so much going on, so much quick-moving action, doors opening and closing, characters literally running from place to place, that it can easily devolve into a confused mess. And there are usually so many witty retorts and double entendres, also often delivered very quickly, that they can sometimes be missed altogether. Luckily, in the hands of Trinity Repertory Company, A Flea in Her Ear by Georges Feydeau is handled with near-perfect precision.
Like many farces, Flea concerns infidelities, both real and imagined, misunderstandings, mistaken identities and sex, whether desired, attempted or rejected. At the story's center is Raymonde, who suspects her husband, Victor, is having an affair. She enlists the help of her friend, Lucienne, in crafting a plot to catch her husband in the act. The attempt to deceive and trap Victor ends up ensnaring many others in the plot, including Lucienne's own husband, Carlos, Victor's nephew Camille and friend Tournel, as well as the entire staff of both Victor's household and a sleazy nearby hotel which caters to ladies of the night and the men who seek them out.
Feydeau, one of the great masters of the French farce, keeps things moving and keeps the jokes and sexual innuendos happening at a steady rate. Realism is not the point, it never is in these plays, as he crafts a wonderful world of outsized and over-the-top characters who keep getting caught in hilariously ridiculous situations. There are certainly some moments which may seem old or tired to a modern audience, or plot twists which they will see coming way ahead of time, but those things can be forgiven in this play so full of madcap craziness. If something falls flat, don't worry, the next moment will be laugh-out-loud funny.
The same can be said about the direction by Tyler Dobrowsky. In a play that's this thick with comic moments, some of them are just going to not work. It's inevitable. One scene that's played out in slow motion, for example, really just slows the entire play down and comes across as boring and pointless. Other jokes, such as a moment when a character keeps getting spun around by people trying to get her out of the way, go on way too long and take all the humor out of the physical comedy. It just makes the audience want to say, "ok, we get it, it's funny, you can stop now." There are other instances like that, where jokes are taken too far or go on too long, especially some of the physical humor, and they just cease to be funny. On the other hand, the jokes that are in the text, the witty responses, one-liners and retorts, always land perfectly, thanks in part to Trinity's cast and their reliably perfect comic timing.
Leading the cast is Fred Sullivan, Jr., the model of on-stage reliability, comic energy and larger-than-life stage presence and charisma. Here he plays both Victor, the man suspected of infidelity, and Pocket, a bellhop at the seedy hotel who just happens to be Victor's spitting image. Sullivan has an seemingly impossible amount of energy as he goes back and forth between the roles, always maintaining the slight differences between the two as well as his own energy level. He never seems to tire or slow down and never misses a perfectly delivered comic moment.
As his wife, Raymonde, Phyllis Kay gives yet another stellar performance. She is wonderfully exasperated as she sees her plot unravel as everything around her just gets crazier. Kay proves again that she has a true talent for both the drama of other roles and the hilarious comedy she creates in this one. Making the perfect team with Kay is Angela Brazil as Lucienne, the friend who hatches and helps to deliver the deception. Brazil, who is great in everything, delivers a performance that is wonderfully over-the-top in all the best ways. What is also wonderful is watching these two work together as a team. They have a fantastic on-stage chemistry and a true feeling that they've been friends for their entire lives, scheming and plotting since they were kids.
This entire production is filled with moments where the Trinity company members shine in part because they are working together, as a team. Stephen Thorne and Mauro Hantman, as Camille and Tournel, respectively, get a few fantastic, hilarious moments, which are even better because these two specific actors are so good both separately and together. The same can be said for other moments between the actors, such as scenes with Richard Donelly, as the doctor, and Sullivan or Thorne, as well as scenes with Rachel Warren and Joe Wilson, Jr., who play Olympia and Ferrallion, the owners of the naughty hotel at the center of much of the play's action. The nature of this play gives these company members the chance to pair off, in a way, and the pairs almost always make perfect theatrical magic happen.
Other actors do make their impression mostly on their own, such as Steve Kidd as a German soldier who is staying at the hotel and just wants someone to love, if you know what I mean. Kidd is always great and gets to let loose here and just be crazy and fun and hilarious, achieving all of those things in large quantity. Alex Woodruff and Elise LeBreton also have some very funny moments as the maid in Victor's house and the one in the sleazy hotel, respectively. Something about hilarious maids in these plays and both are great fun. Not everyone fares so well, the weakest link is the usually great but here miscast Timothy Crowe as Carlos. Yes, realism isn't the point or purpose of this play. It's not supposed to be taken seriously and is all in good fun. Still, Crowe doesn't fit the role at all and his performance in it just feels out of tune and out of touch. More than anything else, it feels like stunt casting that doesn't pay off.
Many doors are required for a play like this and they are wonderfully provided by Patrick Lynch's set design. Lynch does a perfect job creating the world of the play, especially the hotel set, which is just the right balance of creativity and utility. Olivera Gajic's costume design is consistently gorgeous, especially the dresses the women get to wear, and Dan Scully's light design perfectly helps to tell the story without distracting from it.
Now that Spring has finally arrived, it may be the perfect time for this play to arrive on an area stage. Something light and carefree, like a spring breeze, and as funny as watching someone fall in the mud left behind by all that snow. Full of fun and frivolity, it doesn't demand much of an audience other than to sit back and enjoy the ride, a ride well worth taking.
A Flea in Her Ear is at Trinity Repertory Company, 201 Washington Street, through April 26th. Performances are at 7:30pm, Tuesday through Sunday with additional 2:00pm shows on Saturdays and Sundays (with a 2:00 performance on Wednesday the 15th and no 2:00 performance on that Saturday, the 18th). Tickets are $31 to $71 and may be purchased at the box office, by calling (401) 351-4242 or by visiting the theater's website at www.trinityrep.com.
Pictured (L to R): Elise LeBreton and Angela Brazil. Photo by Mark Turek.