One of the things I’ve always bemoaned about farce is its people. They never seem real. And when the characters are mere shells of human beings, their situations are unrelatable and their antics unfunny. At least, to me.
So when I saw the new Long Beach Playhouse production of A Flea in Her Ear, I was both delighted and enlightened. Suddenly it was possible for farce to be hilarious beyond my wildest imaginings. And it is because the play’s people seem like us, or people we know.
French playwright Georges Feydeau authored A Flea in Her Ear just after the turn of the 20th century and set the stage for more than a stage play. Indeed, judging from the timeless gags he employed in his farce, he created a genre from which comedians of every stripe would borrow material for decades to come. In fact, they still do.
Barnett Shaw translated the work into the English version that had the near sold-out Mainstage audience in stitches for most of the performance’s two-hour-plus duration.
A Flea in Her Ear finds the fetching and happily married Yvonne (Kate Woodruff) suddenly suspecting her ever faithful husband Victor Emmanuel (Bill Wolski) of infidelity. She fails to realize that his sudden lack of romantic interest in her is due to a nervous condition.
Yvonne seeks the advice of her best friend Lucienne (Holly Baker-Kreiswirth), who suggests penning a love letter to Victor Emmanuel, in Lucienne’s handwriting, from a mysterious admirer requesting a rendezvous at the Pretty Pussy Inn– yes, that is the name Shaw gave to the establishment of disrepute within his adaptation.
Victor Emmanuel receives the letter, but assumes it was intended for his friend, the dashing Tournel (Joshua Aguilar), who is intrigued by the offer. Yvonne and Lucienne go to the inn expecting to catch Victor Emmanuel awaiting his lover. Instead they find Tournel.
In the meantime, an amused Victor Emmanuel shows the letter to Lucienne’s husband Don Carlos (Pablo Alexander D’Adamo), who recognizes his wife’s handwriting and becomes murderous with rage in the style stereotypical of an impassioned Spaniard.
Don Carlos heads for the Pretty Pussy, with Victor Emmanuel in hot pursuit in order to try to prevent the murder.
You get the idea. Feydeau sets up the usual cases of mistaken identity at a frantic pace that only farce can manage. But the playwright sets his work apart with character development atypical of most farce.
Directed by James Rice, this production succeeds in spades due to its outstanding verbal and physical humor executed with perfect comedic timing by an exceptionally strong cast.
Woodruff strikes the right balance between coy and flirtatious, while Baker-Kreiswirth lends Lucienne a smart, down-to-earth, nonchalant self-confidence. Lucienne is the perfect foil for the hotheaded Don Carlos, her pragmatic and grounded nature rendering his murderous rantings all the more ridiculous.
D’Adamo articulates a wondrous stream of fury in both English and Spanish, his exaggerated Latin accent just right. Wolski amazes by alternately portraying the upstanding and well-spoken Victor Emmanuel and his striking look-alike, the mush-mouthed hotel go-fer Poche. His may well be the most difficult and accomplished performance of all.
Lee Samuel Tanng is hysterical as Victor Emmanuel’s consonant-challenged nephew Camille, whose vowel-intensive diatribes provide more than their fair share of the evening’s entertainment.
Eva Dailey and Greg Wickes portray married servants in the home of Yvonne and Victor Emmanuel. Dailey’s Antoinette is bawdy and naughty, in contrast to Wickes’s domineering Etienne. The role of the always present and effervescent Dr. Finache fares well in the hands of Stephen Alan Carver.
Lesser roles are handled just as ably by cast members Victoria Yvonne Martinez, Noah Wagner, Judy Gish, Douglas Seagraves, and Peter J. Rounds.
As always, Donna Fritsche has performed wizardry with the costume designs.
With only two more weekends to see this outstanding and thoroughly entertaining production, run, don’t walk, to the Long Beach Playhouse to catch a performance of A Flea in Her Ear. You will thank me for the recommedation.
A Flea in Her Ear continues on the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage through May 11. General admission tickets are $24; $21 for seniors; $14 for students/children. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sunday matinees at 2pm. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at lbplayhouse.org .