Rockville Little Theatre A Flea in Her EarBy Bob Ashby • Oct 8th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Rockville Little Theatre
F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, Rockville, MD
Through October 14th
2:55 with two intermissions
$18/$15 Seniors and Students
Reviewed October 6th, 2012
The insect in question, in David Ives’ adaptation of Georges Feydeau’s 1907 farce, currently being presented by Rockville Little Theater (RLT), is Raymonde Chandebise’s jealous suspicion of her husband, Victor. In the age-old tradition of unreasonable suspicions of infidelity (think Cosi Fan Tutti), Raymonde (Kriss Lacovaro) decides to put her husband to the test. By concocting a letter from an anonymous, fictional woman with amorous intentions toward Victor, she tries to see if he will rise to the bait, setting in motion the succession of complications, mistaken identities, intricately timed entrances and exits, chases, and misunderstandings that define a top-notch farce.
The key confusion is between Victor, a thoroughly respectable and, in fact, faithful fellow and Poche, the much-abused, frequently drunken, bell boy at the Frisky Puss, the local no-tell hotel. They look so much alike that they are regularly mistaken for one another, a mixup made credible by the fact that they are played by the same actor (Chris Penick). Penick, leaving through one door as Victor and entering shortly afterwards through another as Poche, and vice-versa, is equally credible as both, his differentiation of the two characters being all the more impressive for his switching back and forth between them frequently and rapidly.
Another member of the Chandebise clan, Camille (Darrell Abdruski), exhibits a singular speech defect that leaves him able to speak only in vowels, rendering him unintelligible to some (but not all) of the other characters. While the role as written is something of a one-trick pony, Andruski succeeds admirably at failing to communicate, clearly articulating his inarticulate mode of speech. His temporary salvation is a genial humbug of a physician, Dr. Finache (Bill Byrnes), who designs a prosthesis that gives Camille the gift of consonants. Byrnes is a consistently easygoing presence amidst all the chaos, always sure of himself even when he is as befuddled as everyone else.
Raymonde’s co-conspirator Lucienne (Amanda Gordon) also has a husband issue. (Both Raymonde and Lucienne could benefit from a touch more of seductiveness in their characterizations.) Her spouse, Don Carlos (Dean Fiala), dressed like a recent escapee from a bull ring, has homicidal intentions toward anyone he suspects of harboring an interest in his wife. Don Carlos is the broadest of the host of broad characters in the show, and Filia misses no opportunity for Spanish-English malapropisms.
Ferraillon (Eric Henry, who also designed the sets), a martinet running the Frisky Puss, frequently thwacking and kicking Poche all the while; and Tournel (Noah Steurer), who fancies himself a sexy dog, tries to pursue Raymonde, and incites in others the desire to strangle; are among the others director Laura Andruski runs through their convoluted paces. Andruski deserves credit for maintaining both a very consistent, and appropriately non-naturalistic, acting style in her large cast and for maintaining the play’s clarity. However confused the characters are, the audience never is.
The production is relatively subtly updated from its 1907 roots, the tone being set by sound designer Kevin O’Connell’s selection of 1920s/30s piano jazz selections before the show and during each of the two 20-minute intermissions. The length of the intermissions appears dictated by the change from the first act set of the Chandebise drawing room to the second act Frisky Puss hotel and back again.
Both large, fully-realized sets have all the requisite functional elements of various doors and other exits called for in a farce. Both sets use color particularly well, dominated by pinks and reds for the Frisky Puss and whites, grays, and blacks for the drawing-room, which along with some set dressing elements (a zebra-striped chaise, a vase) join with the music in establishing the period for the show. The second act hotel set includes a turntable spun all too visibly by a stagehand, which at one point got hung up on one of the set’s doors.
Ginger Ager, of Gene’s Costumes, adds pink highlights of various shades to almost everyone’s costume. Whether in underwear, belts, vests, accessories, or flowers, the pink theme unifies the look of the production and contributes in no small measure to its mood.
The point of a farce, of course, is to be funny. In large part because the director and cast understand that the characters cannot be aware of their being funny — their situations, however ridiculous, are real to them — the RLT production succeeds in in being the exceedingly silly, entertaining, piece it is intended to be.
Georges Feydeau is the unequivocal master of the French bedroom farce. Written in 1907 at the height of the Belle Epoque, A Flea in Her Ear is one of his greatest works, a light, amusing, skillfully constructed comedy. Over the years, there have been a number of translations of the original play. David Ives’ new adaptation was commissioned by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. It was presented March 10, 2006, its world première. If you have seen Flea before, it is likely you enjoyed the original John Mortimer translation which was done for Britain’s National Theatre and opened at the Old Vic in 1966. Mortimer also did a screen version for a 20th Century Fox film with Rex Harrison. The Barnett Shaw translation ran at New York’s ANTA Playhouse in 1969. The adaptation by Jean-Marie Besset and Mark O’Donnell was mounted at the Roundabout in New York in 1998, staged by Bill Irwin. Ives has written a very funny version of the play, which is true to the original but with a great sense of language and wordplay that just makes it perfect for an American audience.
Farces are primarily meant to entertain, often pitting a protagonist against his or her environment and involving broad characters, mistaken identity, and special staging effects. Elements of farce go back to the Greeks who wrote Satyr plays to provide comic relief between the tragedies. Japanese Noh plays have a version of this as well, known as Kyogen plays. But the line between comedy and tragedy can often be very thin. Feydeau insisted that the actors in his plays find honesty beneath the ridiculous. The suffering of characters in a farce contains an important reminder: that what we believe to be true about ourselves and our place in life can be turned on its head in an instant.
My sincere thanks to RLT’s Board of Directors for giving me this unexpected opportunity. I am very fortunate to have found such a talented cast and dedicated production team to pull off such a wildly enjoyable production.
Vsevolod Meyerhold, a director and actor of the Moscow Art Theatre and contemporary of Feydeau, revered the popular Farce ad the life-spring of the theatre — a permanent source of regeneration and renewal. We hope you feel renewed after the farcial traffic of our stage. Thanking you for checking into the Frisky Puss Hotel. Enjoy your stay.
- Victor Chandebise / Poche : Chris Penick
- Raymonde Chandebise: Kryss Lacovaro
- Camille Chandebise: Darrell Andruski
- Lucienne Homenides De Histangua: Amanda Gordon
- Don Carlos Homenides De Histangua: Dean Fiala
- Dr. Finache: Bill Byrnes
- Romain Tournel: Noah Steurer
- Antoinette: Emily Mullin
- Etienne: Carl West
- Ferraillon: Eric Henry
- Olympia: Elizabeth Weiss
- Eugenie: Alexandra Correa
- Baptiste: Art Salwin
- Rugby: Patrick Pase
- Director: Laura W. Andruski
- Co-Producer: David Levin
- Co-Producer / Props: Andrea Kibbe
- Stage Manager: Sarah Randles
- Assistant Stage Manager: Elizabeth Weiss
- Set Design: Eric Henry
- Master Carpenter: William Kolodrubetz
- Costumes: Gene’s Costumes
- Lighting Designer: Jim Robertson
- Sound Designer: Kevin O’connell
- Website: Art Salwin
- Audition Host: Mandy Keating
- Bed Pullers: William Morrison & Clint Rossiter
Disclaimer: Rockville Little Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8722.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.