Review: A Flea in Her Ear at ICT

The Indianapolis Civic Theatre, on the campus of Marian University, opened their latest Indianapolis theatre offering this week: A Flea in Her Ear. In this fast paced French farce, mistaken identity, jealous lovers and incompetent servants abound as a community of elegant individuals collide at a questionable French hotel. Indianapolis Civic Theatre’s production is a flawless example of this historic form of theatre, making for an amusingly satiric look at a high society that is green with jealousy. Don’t miss this Indianapolis performing arts offering now through May 23.

As a student of dramaturgy myself, I always appreciate and anticipate the “Entr’acte Facts” in Indianapolis Civic Theatre programs. French farce is the topic of discussion this go-round, with a look at Sir John Mortimer’s translation of Georges Feydeau’s classic French farce A Flea in Her Ear. “Employing stock characters, exaggerated acting styles, vulgar humor and physical comedy, farce has always been closely aligned with satire and parody.” Think the Three Stooges or Neil Simon’s Rumors, and you have two good examples of times you have enjoyed farce as a form of entertainment.

Feydeau’s classic French farce employs many of the classic conventions of this type of drama: mistaken identity, chase scenes, absurd circumstances, physical humor, sexual innuendo, puns, deception and misinformation. In this farce, high society is placed at the forefront of this ridiculousness, poking fun at the imagined class system that seems to separate the wealthy characters from their servants, However, the play ultimately reveals that to be human is to engage in this kind of farcical activity, regardless of class or station. In this way, Feydeau’s comedy is also a parody of class systems.

In A Flea in Her Ear, a wealthy upper echelon wife, Raymonde Chandebise (Christine Kruze), suspects that her once virile husband, Victor Emmanuel (Paul Hansen), has taken a lover. She plots with her friend Lucienne (Carrie Bennet Fedor) to send him an anonymous love letter inviting him to a rendezvous at the Hotel Coq d’Or that will ensnare him in his own deceit. They have the letter delivered to Victor Emmanuel, who shares it with his womanizing friend Tournel (Joshua Ramsey). The pair deduce that the letter was actually intended for Tournel, who heads to the questionable hotel for a lusty encounter.

As the letter makes its way through the large cast of characters, each man and woman find their own reasons for patronizing the notoriously amorous hotel including Dr. Finache (Bill Book), Victor Emmanuel’s nephew with a speech impediment Camille (Zachary Joyce) and the house butler Etienne (Mark Fishback). But when Victor Emmanuel shares the letter, which was penned by Lucienne, with her fiery Spanish husband Don Carlos (Ian Cruz), he vows to murder his unfaithful wife while she is in the arms of her lover. Act One ends with an anticipation of a chaotic evening at the Hotel Coq d’Or.

With a scenic and lighting design from Koharchik brothers Rob and Ryan, respectively, this bedlam comedy shines. Rob Koharchik’s elegant set doubles as French mansion and shady hotel. Koharchik creates space for comedy to thrive, with plenty of options for entrances and exits during this farce, also known as the “theatre of a hundred doors.” The set offers an elegant look with faux mahogany and lusciously decadent crown molding. At the onset of Act Two, Koharchik’s set even gets applause of its own as it transforms before your eyes from an upscale French mansion to the Hotel Coq d’Or, complete with revolving bed, grand staircase and rooster emblem. Ryan Koharchik’s lights beautifully accent his brother’s set. His design and timing draw our eye to anticipate action without ever giving away any of the gags. Costume design from Adrienne Conces round out the setting, with sophisticated period pieces.

Though A Flea in Her Ear is supported by a wonderful design team and has many stand out performances, the success of the show depends largely on the director’s work with the ensemble as a whole. Robert J. Sorbera orchestras a cast of eighteen through a carefully choreographed show dependent on physical humor and impeccably timed entrances and exits. As Act two winds its way through the scandals of the Hotel Coq d’Or, the ensemble never misses a beat. Remarkably, they keep this incredibly fast show moving, never leaving a second of dead space on stage. In a whirlwind of activity, they work together to create a tangled web of comedy that culminates with a glorious tableaux.

A play in three acts with one intermission can often make for a tedious evening at the theatre. But Sorbera keeps it moving throughout. And though my personal tastes left me feeling frustrated as mistaken identity fills the action of the third act, the play never stops moving: a testament to Sorbera’s talent at orchestrating large casts in organized chaos.

Within the ensemble, distinct characters give stand out performance. Paul Hansen doubles as both the central character, the wealthy Victor Emmanuel, and his doppelganger Poche, a lowly hotel servant. Each of Hansen’s characters offer a distinct perspective on the class system of the time, with Victor Emmanuel as a babbling aristocrat and Poche as the drunken simpleton. Hansen, last seen on stage as the alcoholic professor in Civic Theatre’s Bus Stop, proves himself to be a talented character actor with a great sense of comic timing.

As the fiery Don Carlos, Ian Cruz gives a pitch perfect performance. Though I never really understood what he was saying, his intentions and emotions shine through clearly in a passionate portrayal of a jealous Spanish husband. As his wife Lucienne, Carrie Bennet Fedor matches his intensity in their interactions, but also reveals a strength on stage that rises above the rest of the cast. As usual, she is charming to watch.

Zachary Joyce dons the role of the speech impediment ridden nephew Camille. In the same vein as Cruz’s Don Carlos, Joyce’s speech is quite intentionally unclear. His humor, however, is a clear as a bell. Joyce deftly takes the audience with him through every arc of each scene he is in, grabbing as many laughs as he can along the way. Mark Fishback takes on the role of house Butler, Etienne. Giving the role a wonderfully intrusive edge, Fishback’s character seems to be at the center of everyone else’s conflict, grabbing as much material for gossip as he can. That is until his own unfaithful wife draws him into the mix, making him just as much a cuckold as his master.

Other noteworthy annsulary characters include the hotel proprieter Ferallion, played by Rory D. Shivers. As the bombastic owner of the Hotel Coq d’Or, Shivers offers a the perfect picture of a man who runs such an immoral establishment. And although he had no lines, in English that is, John Kern plays the hilarious bit part of Herr Schwartz, a lusty Prussian looking to mate with anything in a skirt. Kern’s talent began to earn him laughs by just stepping on stage.

A Flea in Her Ear is a hilarious theatre history lesson, taking audience through every classic element of French farce with tittering results. See it on stage at Marian University through May 23. Before the show grab dinner and drinks at any of these Indianapolis restaurants or Indianapolis bars. Stay tuned to Indianapolis News, Event and Information on Fun City for all the latest on fun things to do in Indianapolis. We cover Indianapolis attractions to Indianapolis sports and more. Get out in Indy and find some fun!

A Flea in Her Ear
Through May 23, 2010

Indianapolis Civic Theatre
Marian University
3200 Cold Spring Road
Indianapolis, IN