A Flea in Her Ear

After making an artistic and political statement by leading off his inaugural season with the late Arthur Miller's searing critique of war profiteering in All My Sons, new DCTC artistic director Kent Thompson cozies up to his company's long-time players by casting them all in Georges Feydeau's renowned farce A Flea in Her Ear.

As tragedy and romance heal through catharsis, so comedy and its variants heal through laughter, and there is no more polished a master at the hyperbolic form of this art—farce—than Feydeau. Using classical commedia dell'arte elements, including look-alikes, a mishandled message, stock characters, speech impediments and affectations, and breakneck mayhem, the playwright has a field day skewering the bourgeoisie of La Belle Époque Paris.

Thompson, in turn, takes full advantage of every mirthful opportunity, whether it be pun, physical type, stage business, costume, or setting, to keep the audience in stitches throughout.

Photo of Jamie Horton as Victor Emmanuel, Randy Moore as Dr. Finache, and John Hutton as Romain
Jamie Horton as Victor Emmanuel,
Randy Moore as Dr. Finache,
and John Hutton as Romain
Photo: Terry Shapiro
At the center of all this hoopla is Victor Emmanuel Chandebise, a wealthy burgher with a temporary impotence problem. A century before Viagra, Chandebise's response to his lack of response is to curtail close encounters with his wife Raymonde, thus setting off a series of ill-considered suppositions and actions that get more ridiculous by the minute.

Master of the moment, Jamie Horton, runs with Victor Emmanuel's mercurial disposition—honorable husband and provider one minute, flattered egotist the next—then turns around and appears as Poche, the local bordello's tippling handyman. Rarely does an actor get to play the straight man to his own fool, but Horton succeeds at both—the erudite and savvy gentleman and the zany, impudent laborer—managing a complete makeover in the time it takes to walk out one door, cross behind the set, and walk in another.

Feydeau sets up his theme and plot quickly, first introducing Chandebise's prurient household—the lascivious maid Antoinette; her efficient and domineering husband, the butler Etienne; and her paramour, Camille, Victor Emmanuel's nephew—then follows with another juicy intrigue precipitated by Victor Emmanuel's jealous wife, Raymonde, her unsubstantiated suspicions, and her best friend Lucienne's erotic vocabulary.

Stephanie Cozart, as Anoinette, gets things rolling with a flirtatious smile, fetching body language, and a playful swat to Douglas Harmsen's backend. Harmsen, in turn, as Camille, importunes us from the other side of a cleft pallet, teasingly remedied for a brief spell by a doctor's device, all serving to mock the fruitless communicative efforts surrounding him. All this behind the back of Eric Sandvold's snappy portrayal of too-clever-by-half Etienne—generous to his employers, imperious to his employees, and oblivious to his wife's wandering affections.

Photo of Kathleen McCall as Raymonde and Angela Pierce as Lucienne
Kathleen McCall as Raymonde
and Angela Pierce as Lucienne
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Unable to carry out her own affair when she suspects her husband is two-timing her, Kathleen McCall's Raymonde is an amusing swirl of conniving indignation. Though at first resistant, then an unwitting accomplice to Raymonde's ill-conceived plot, Angela Pierce's Lucienne, once unleashed, does a delicious turnabout, concocting a smoldering mash note flavored with a liberal dose of perfume that is the admiration of Victor Emmanuel's buddies, but leaves her vulnerable to a jealous husband's rage.

Photo of Bill Christ as Feraillon and Sam Gregory as Carlos
Bill Christ as Feraillon
and Sam Gregory as Carlos
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Such marital discord would be scary if it weren't so hilarious following Sam Gregory's shoot-himself-in-the-foot Carlos Homenides de Histangua, a close relative of Antonio Banderas' Puss 'N' Boots from Shrek 2. With a flamenco-inspired delivery, Gregory is a whirlwind of Iberian machismo once he recognizes his wife's handwriting and perfume in the love letter that Victor Emmanuel has given to his handsome best friend Romain, for whom he figures it was meant. Besides, Dr. Finache (an inspired bit of casting with Randy Moore (The Imaginary Invalid) once again flourishing as the butt of a French satirist's distrust of the medical profession) has been unable to remedy Victor Emmanuel's sexual performance.

Primping for the audience as he happily accepts Victor Emmanuel's steaming missive, John Hutton's Romain is every bit the carefree Don Juan, as he temporarily abandons his pursuit of his best friend's wife to rendezvous with the unknown.

As if the sumptuous gilded decor of the Chandebise's act one living room wasn't grand enough, scenic Designer Scott Weldin outdoes himself with the quintessentially posh bordello posing as a hotel, the Coq d'Or, a gaudy crimson homage to French notions of pleasure. With its hidden beds, multiple doors, and single-minded clientele, all elements are in place for a madcap second act.

Photo of Randy Moore as Dr. Finache and Kathleen Brady as Olympe
Randy Moore as Dr. Finache
and Kathleen Brady as Olympe
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Bill Christ, as the blowhard with military bearing, Augustin Feraillon, along with Kathleen Brady, as his big-hearted co-conspirator, Olympe, are the proprietors of this discrete playground. Despite their savior faire, however, they are unprepared for the mayhem that occurs when all parties converge on their establishment.

In addition to Victor Emmanuel's misdirected minions, the pot is spiced with Mark Rubald's Herr Schwarz, a Prussian officer who comes to attention in all stages of undress with a riding crop and leather boots, and Philip Pleasants' Baptistin, an elderly relation who makes his living as a hired decoy for backroom trysts.

Photo of Jamie Horton as Poche
Jamie Horton as Poche
Photo: Terry Shapiro
If you didn't know better, you could swear look-alikes Victor Emmanuel and Poche were one and the same person.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Georges Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ears, runs through November 5th. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows


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