Arts & Culture

Comedy explores infidelity, celebrates absurdity

‘A Flea in Her Ear’ finds balance between absurdism and caricature in farcical comedy

By
Contributing Writer
Friday, April 3, 2015

Though short on substance, Georges Feydeau’s frantic comedy, “A Flea in Her Ear,” which runs at the Trinity Repertory Company this month, entertains in an absurdist and innuendo-heavy exploration of infidelity.

The 1907 French work is a classic in the genre of farce. True to its form, the play is often ludicrous — it features both a duplicitous doppelganger named Pocket and an S&M R&B  musical number.

Under the direction of Tyler Dobrowsky MA’08, the play wholeheartedly runs with this absurdity, even through its set design. By including a series of doors in the staging of the production, Dobrowsky adds a Benny Hill-inspired comedy to the cast’s frenzied movements on and off stage.

The play begins when Raymonde Chandebise, an upper-class Parisian woman, conspires with a friend to seek revenge on her husband Victor Emmanuel, who the pair believes to be unfaithful. To gather evidence against him, they write Victor a seductive, perfume-drenched letter from a “secret admirer” requesting to meet at a hotel. Their plan, however, unravels. Victor is entirely faithful and believes the letter must be meant for his friend Tournel, who is already secretly pursuing Raymonde.

Within ten minutes, it becomes clear that this play will follow the style of sex-filled comedies of error before it. Mistaken identities and physical comedy are featured heavily. But “A Flea in Her Ear” sets itself apart with its heavy-handed and undeniably hilarious innuendo.

A string of scandalous wordplay pushes contemporary theater standards, let alone those of the early 20th century. And the riotous laughter of the audience admittedly made the inappropriateness even funnier.

The cast features many Brown alums and current graduate students, a product of Trinity Rep’s long-standing joint MFA theater program with the University.

Overall, the cast does well in walking the fine line between absurdism and caricature.

Stephen Thorne exemplifies this achievement. Thorne plays Victor’s speech-impaired nephew, Camille, who is unable to pronounce consonants. Camille’s exclusively vowel-ed speech could easily have become grating, but Thorne finds a depth of humor — and surprisingly strong enunciation — in this absurd role.

The same can be said for Fred Sullivan Jr., a lecturer at the Rhode Island School of Design, who plays Victor and his doppelganger, Pocket. His quick changes between a choleric aristocrat and a drunkard bellboy are impressively smooth.

But the line is still occasionally crossed, especially with the mobster-influenced Spaniard Don Carlos Homenides De Histangua, played by Timothy Crowe. Don Carlos’ leopard-skinned jacket, thick accent and Scarface allusions somehow feel heavy-handed even as part of a generally unsubtle comedy. The same could be said for Angela Brazil, an instructor for the Brown/Trinity Rep program who, while generally very funny as Don Carlos’ wife, adds fandango flourishes to her performance that feel unnecessary and stereotypical.

While the play lacks any truly revolutionary commentary — it’s scant on commentary at all, really — it is a product of its genre. The goals and criteria of farce stand separate from those of a traditional drama, and camp, such as “A Flea in Her Ear,” is necessarily superficial. So keep in mind that this play is for those who prefer their dirty jokes and pratfalls to their biting political critique.

“A Flea in Her Ear” will play at Trinity Rep until April 26.