Theatre Mirror Reviews - "A Flea in Her Ear"

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entire contents copyright 2010 by Tony Annicone

"A Flea in Her Ear"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The University of Rhode Island's Theatre Department's third show is a new version of George Feydeau's French farce "A Flea in Her Ear" by David Ives. The play is considered one of the greatest French farces, perhaps the greatest farce ever written. Madame Raymonde Chandebise becomes obsessed with the notion her husband Victor's lack of interest in sex with her means he has taken to seeing other women. He is a placid and successful insurance executive. To find out if her suspicions are correct, she has her best friend, Lucienne, write an anonymous letter proposing a rendezvous at the disreputable Frisky Puss Hotel. Victor thinks the letter is for his coworker, the gigolo, Tournel. He sends him in his place to the rendezvous. Meanwhile, Camille, Victor's nephew, is overjoyed to have his speech impediment corrected by Dr. Finache. In celebration, he and the household cook, Antoinette, also hurry to the same hotel. They are followed by her jealous husband, Etienne, the Chandesbise's valet. The doctor decides to go there for an afternoon fling. Meanwhile Lucienne's jealous Spanish husband, Carlos shows up with pistols and Camille is unable to warn anyone because of his ridiculous speech impediment. A drunken bellboy Poche is an exact double of Victor. Raymonde thinking it is Victor, keeps trying to escape from the hotel with Tournel who incessantly tries to seduce her. A revolving bed keeps flinging them from room to room. All the people that went to the Hotel return to the Chandebise home utterly confused about what happened at the Frisky Puss with Ferralion, Poche and Eugenie putting in appearances there but since this a farce all things eventually work themselves out and Raymonde's flea in her ear disappears. Director Alan Hawkridge casts some fabulous college performers in these madcap roles and obtains dynamite results as the audience laughs all night long at their crazy and wild antics.

Alan directs the show splendidly and infuses this farce with a fast pace and frantic movements and gestures. From the door slamming, the double takes, the innuendos and mistaken identity, this cast executes them perfectly, making this show a laugh riot from start to finish. The audience's reaction to their comic antics wins them a standing ovation, proving Alan, an excellent director. The gorgeous early 20th century costumes are by David Howard including a stunning red dress for Lucienne and a purple dress for Raymonde. Scenic design is by Katryne Hecht with two separate sets:one of the Chandebise home which is enormous and ornately decorated with a stunning large purple Victorian sofa with four doors and a giant window while the other one is the sleazy hotel setting for the illicit affairs with many doors, a stairway and a giant pouffe.The lighting design is by Matthew Terry and sound by Michael Hyde.

Alan's cast ranges from freshmen to seniors and they all make the most of their roles. Benjamin Grills, a senior, plays the dual role of Victor and the hotel porter, Poche. He shows his range as an actor going from the wealthy husband to the drunken, buffoonish oaf with ease.( As Poche, he walks hunched over) The audience always knows who the character is. One of the funniest things is when he is constantly being hit by a riding crop and kicked in the behind. Ben knows how to work the crowd obtaining gales of laughter from them at his crazy antics. Katie Travers, a beautiful red head, matches Ben's energetic portrayal marvelously. She makes the exposition of the show fly by and displays her jealous behavior as she explains her husband's lack of interest in sex lately after having been a marvel in the bedroom in the past. The hilarious scenes with Tournel in the whorehouse are outstanding as they run all around the hotel being pursued by various people. Katie's zany behavior adds to the merriment of the show. Jesse Dufault displays the egotistical behavior needed for Tournel. His conceited and arrogant posturing and proclamations that he can woo any woman he wants is right on the money. Jesse wins many laughs as this pompous playboy especially when Victor picks him up to choke him in the latter two acts.. Betsy Rinaldi shines as Lucienne who plots and plans with Raymonde to make Victor pay for his suspected behavior. She is very funny as their plans fall apart caught up by their own misdeeds. Betsy's conversation with her jealous husband in Spanish is one of her standout moments as are her confused looks at Camille's unintelligible warnings to her. Her crazed and maniacal husband, Don Carlos is played by Albert Coelho. He commands his scenes with his strong line delivery and obtains gales of laughter at his erratic behavior and firing of his pistol several times. Another client at the Inn is Dr. Finache played beautifully by Ben Rose, a senior. He has a many humorous lines including "Where there's a willy there's a way when Victor tells of his problem in the bedroom and is hilarious when he appears in his underwear in the hotel scene. The doctor is very condescending as he describes things in his medical jargon. Funny moments include when he shows off Camille's silver palate, hypnotize's Poche and Etienne and the ammonia treatment he recommends for Victor and Poche in the last scene.

One of the biggest scene stealers in this show is Mike Puppi as Camille. He has the most difficult role in the show as a person with a speech impediment, he can't pronounce vowels and has to make his dialogue clear to the audience. While playing up the humor of other cast members not being able to understand him. Mike makes the transition from talking with the impediment to speaking clearly a standout scene in the show. He is a hoot as he quakes and quails behind the door and runs screaming through the whorehouse about the Spaniard with the pistols and about the two look-alike men later on in the last scene, appearing in his underwear. The lusty maid, Antoinette who is secretly having an affair with Camille is played by Hillary Scofield, while her jealous husband Etienne is played by Birk Wozniak. They bring a great deal of energy to these roles, making their time on stage memorable to the audience. The Frisky Puss characters are hysterical from the first time you see them onstage. Erick Betancort plays Ferrailon, the military owner who runs the place like a battleship. He barks orders to his workers and bosses everyone around. When they dawdle or don't pay attention to him, he boots them in the ass. Caitlin Tango plays his busty, long suffering wife, Olympia who screams and faints while Kira Hawkridge plays the hunchbacked, constantly smoking maid, Eugenie. Ferrailon's uncle Baptiste, an old man who is on a revolving bed to act as a decoy for lovers who get caught in the act is played by Johnny Sederquist(who wears a fright mask with a huge nose) who screams his bones ache because of his rheumatism while Collin Brown plays Rugby, an insane Englishman who wants to have sex with every woman he sees. So for an outstanding farce, be sure to catch "A Flea in Her Ear" at URI, before time runs out.

"A Flea in Her Ear" (25 February - 7 March)
@ Robert E. Will Theatre, URI Fine Arts Center, Upper College Road, KINGSTON RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide