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CSC’s “A Flea in Her Ear” will have you Itching for More

Review by Liz Eichler of “A Flea in Her Ear”: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s “A Flea in Her Ear” is an hilarious farce, told in 3 acts, delivered at break-neck speed, spanning all sorts of illicit and ridiculous behavior by randy Europeans. As long as you suspend your modern moral standards, it will give you a workout laughing and gasping for breath; you’ll be happy you came. Written by Parisian playwright Georges Feydeau during La Belle Epoque (think Art Nouveau and Erte, end of 19th and beginning of 20th centuries), it was an opportunity to poke fun at the opulence and ridiculousness of the rich, privileged upper classes. This new version, translated and adapted by David Ives, adjusts a few details and updates the language, yet illustrates that public infidelity and kinkiness of the 1% is old hat.  Who knew?

The farce pulls in all the classic comedic devices you love in “The Three Stooges” or “Frasier.”  Central to the plot there is mistaken identity, repetition, hyperbole, double entendre, all sorts of word play, slapstick, physical comedy, conflict between the classes, and of course, timing.  Who better than Jeremy Dubin to direct this piece, as he is a master of the hilarious.

Here is the gist of the main plot: two school friends bemoan their husbands’ interest in “being a husband”; one says he wants to “be a husband” every night and the other says he’s dried up—just like that.  She assume it is an affair, so they concoct a trick (one they saw at the theatre) to catch him by sending him a perfumed letter, written by the friend, offering a tryst at an irreputable establishment, the Frisky Puss Hotel.  On Coq d’Or Lane.  

There are multiple side stories and interesting characters, with the cast of fourteen deftly playing fifteen characters. The star of the show is timing. Most of the actors have worked with each other for years, and the door slams, the leg crosses, the head turns, etc. are perfectly synchronized adding to laughs and keeping the show moving at a frantic pace. Kudos to Director Dubin.

The writing is also a star, with clever wordplay and puns all appealing to those who like high comedy (think Frasier and Moliere), and the servant beatings, the slapstick are there for those who adore the Three Stooges and Adam Sandler.

Billy Chace, Sara Clark, and Kelly Mengelkoch carry much of the show.  Chace’s energy as both a high brow and low brow character (Victor Chandebise/Poche) is wonderful. He is the king of timing and tone. Clark (Lucienne Homenides de Histangua) and Mengelkoch (Raymonde Chandebise) as the best friends are appropriately high class, but also conniving yet charming.

Justin McCombs (Romain Tournel) sports a handlebar mustache as the lascivious friend of Chandebise, yet eager to hop into bed with his friend’s wife. Brandon Joseph Burton is cousin Camille, someone who never has been able to pronounce consonants.  His physical comedy is big and spot on, (but his intonation is too close to the hearing impaired.) Pulling influence from Italian commedia dell’arte, the cast includes a Doctor (Barry Mulholland) who has a hand in multiple story lines (and a big costume moment in Act 2) and Phil Fiorini (Ferraillon) is the retired Captain, ineffectively herding kittens through the Frisky Puss. Geoffrey Warren Barnes II (servant Etienne, cuckolded by beautiful Antoinette), Candice Handy (mouthy servant Eugenie), Joneal Joplin (Baptiste), Josh Katawick (Rugby), Miranda McGee (Olympia) and Maggie Lou Rader (cheeky maid Antoinette) fill out the cast hilariously.  However, Matthew Lewis Johnson, as Don Carlos Homenides de Histangua, steals the show.

The set (W. Turbyne) begins as sophisticated blank palette, soon filled with the raucous colors and antics of the less than perfect upper class. The play poses a technical puzzle still to be solved: how to build such a sumptuous space, which is completely transformed into the tawdry “Frisky Puss” in  Act 2 and restores in Act 3, which allows the actors to run quickly and safely backstage, yet remain solid for the continual door slams.

A sprawling but ultimately uncomplicated storyline revolves around ED, lust, infidelity, mistaken identity, and clever wordplay. “A Flea in Her Ear” will have you laughing out loud, giving your lungs a workout, as the colors and humor burst from the stage, and leave you feeling spent. “A Flea in Her Ear” runs through June 2.  For tickets contact @cincinnatishakes.com or call 513-381-2273 (BARD)