It’s an old showbiz maxim: “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.” For confirmation, check out the amusing though not completely on the mark attractions “A Flea in Her Ear” at Westport Country Playhouse.
“Flea,” a French farce from the turn-of-the-20th-century by George Feydeau, is here in a new version by the skilled David Ives. We know what that means: slamming doors, mistaken identities, non-stop action, plus risqué banter and lots of bedroom panic.
At Westport, in a stunning co-production with the Resident Ensemble Players of the University of Delaware, who is or is not sleeping with whom becomes, mais oui, the evening’s raison d’etre. To sort it all out would be giving away the jokes as well as being impossible to untangle yet the eye candies — Kristen Robinson’s sets, Matthew Richards’ lighting and Sara Jean Tosetti’s costumes – are elegant and charming.
Victor Chandebise, an upright businessman, is apparently too distracted to satisfy his wife, Raymonde, in the sack. Or is his inability to perform a result of his being depleted by an affair with someone else? To trap him, Raymonde gets her friend Lucienne to pen an invitation to a rendezvous at the notorious Frisky Puss Hotel, hoping he’ll show up ready to fire.
Toss in Lucienne’s jealous, volatile, gun-toting Spanish husband, plus the household cook married to the butler but enamored of Chandebise’s cousin, Camille (whose speech impediment prevents his pronouncing consonants), a kinky doctor, a British lecher, drunks and assorted other randy riff-raff. Don’t forget a revolving bed. The stage is thus set for the knockabout second act which takes place at the sleazy hotel and involves a boatload of just-missed encounters.
The over-extended third act of this lengthy evening unravels the knots, exposing the characters’ follies and their reconciliation with an ordered society. At Westport, under the whirlwind direction of Mark Lamos, the finer points are missed: actors rush over lines and, in some cases, anticipate jokes.
Still, Michael Gotch is a hoot as Don Carlos. Even his unruly hair is a character. As the speech-deprived Camille, Mic Matarrese is a one-man bundle of merriment, while Elizabeth Heflin is a lovely Raymonde and Lee E. Ernst endearing in the dual role of the nearly-cuckolded Victor and Poche, a lookalike bellboy. Others in the large (14 member) cast keep up their spirits – and ours.