From drop-dead satire to deadpan farce, Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear holds its own, by Georges. It matters little whether a genre is high or low: The horseplay, the byplay, the wordplay’s the thing – the ready wit is all. Georges Feydeau was an inexhaustible font of farce, who, however, does not receive his due because his art form is considered more form than art.
The Roundabout production of this part-drawing-room-part-bedroom farce is the handiwork of co-adapters: Jean-Marie Besset and Mark O’Donnell. A quick check of the original reveals no striking changes (hardly needed) except that such names as Lucienne, Raymonde, and Ferraillon have become Lucie, Constance, and the very un-French Battalion, presumably easier for American tongues to wrap themselves around. The much-kicked-about Poche becomes Dodo, probably because a bellhop shouldn’t sound posh; Dr. Finache is now, unsubtly, Dr. Migraine. Still, these are footling changes, and most of the text remains commendably unimproved. Only Rugby, the randy Britisher at the Hotel Pussycat who speaks Feydeauish English, required some linguistic refurbishing.
Nothing would be sillier than trying to summarize a Feydeau farce, with its nonstop amorous entanglements, unconsummated infidelities, mistaken identities, and breathless chases. Much revolves around the identical looks of the businessman Victor Chandebise and the oafish bellhop Dodo, played by the same actor making rapid-change entrances. Mark Linn-Baker handles these parts deftly and engagingly, and Bill Irwin, who practices this choreographic farce himself, has staged it winningly.
But this is not the only type of farce needed, and Irwin, not a real director, has turned virtually all characters into mini-Irwins, which proves especially unsuited to women. Not that the actresses he chose have much to contribute in any case. Angie Phillips, as Mme. Homenides de Histingua, affects a pseudo-aristocratic delivery almost as impenetrable as the utterances of Camille, who has a cleft palate unable to negotiate consonants – a role whose vowels Shaun Powell renders with charmingly liquid desperation. As the big bully hotelier Battalion, James Lally rants merrily and (literally) kicks ass with finesse. Mark McKinney scores as a madly jealous, pistol-brandishing Spaniard, whereas Richard B. Shull’s Dr. Migraine is as unfunny as his name.
There are some nice touches, such as the superb visual tour de force near the end, and some dreadful ones, such as Alice Playten’s singing a grossly humorless song of her own making. Douglas Stein’s sets and Bill Kellard’s costumes are agreeable, as are the moments where Feydeau’s humor is indestructible. But A Flea in Her Ear is no feather in the Roundabout’s cap.