The Hilberry wraps up its season with a return to the comic genius of David Ives (author of last season’s “All in The Timing”) who puts a contemporary spin on the Belle Epoch bedroom farce, “A Flea in Her Ear,” by Georges Feydeau.
In this smart, fast-paced Hilberry production, Raymonde Chandebise, a jealous young wife in an upper-crust social set, launches a plot to trap her husband in an infidelity. (Never mind that he happens to be innocent.) Raymonde enlists the help of her friend Lucienne, who writes an “anonymous” perfumed letter inviting the M. Chandebise to an elicit rendezvous at the Frisky Puss Hotel, where Raymonde will spring her trap. Chandebise has no intention of cheating on his wife, and is convinced the letter was intended for his womanizing friend Tournel. Tournel is happy to fulfill the tryst, whomever the lady may be. But the letter ends up in the hands of Lucienne’s insanely jealous husband, and the lark turns dangerous. With each twist, others are pulled into Raymonde’s trap, and before it can snap shut, half of Paris seems to be caught up in an imbroglio at the Frisky Puss Hotel. All the classic comic devices – cuckoldry, mistaken identity, miscommunication, sexual innuendo and male impotence – are dusted off and polished to sparkle like new.
There are multiple plot complications, and the story runs like a dozen Slinkys racing down the steps of the Paris Opera House—it’s a hilarious, tangled mess that is a spectacle to behold. Guest director Shelley Butler says, “David Ives’ translation maintains all of the fantastic, joyful, absurdity that makes ‘A Flea in Her Ear’ a beloved classic comedy, while adapting his delicious wordplay perfectly for a modern audience. Our production, set in fabulous 1950s Paris, capitalizes on a time where the bourgeois were still buttoned up enough to be scandalized by the naughty elements, and presents a sumptuous and sexy style and verve that further energizes the comedy.”
The entire cast gets an aerobic workout, as everyone seems to be chasing or running from a jealous spouse, a would-be paramour or an angry boss. However, no one works as hard as Michael Phillip Thomas, who plays both the respectable, unsuspecting husband, Victor Chandebise, and his doppelganger, Poche, a hapless bellhop who works at the Frisky Puss. By the end of the play, he seems to be chasing himself; his and everyone’s sanity is in question.
Mary Sansone is delightful as the suspicious young wife with the “flea in her ear” that sets her questioning her husband’s faithfulness. Her deadpan delivery of some very funny material calls to mind a young Katherine Hepburn in “The Philadelphia Story.” Kyle Mitchell Johnson spins straw into gold as Camille, a young man with a profound speech impediment that prohibits him from pronouncing consonants… but not propositions.
Antonia LaChé is Lucienne, Raymonde’s friend who helps with her scheme but ends up arousing the murderous jealousy of her hot-blooded Spanish husband. She is delightful as the urbane Parisian unfairly implicated in Raymonde’s devices; LaChé has a number of fine comic moments. Santino Craven may have the most fun of anyone, firing off his revolver and fierce Castilian threats with equal abandon, and then asking hotel guests, in the most gentlemanly way possible, if they will open the door so he may shoot them.
Everyone has some little jewel-like bit of business that adds up to a rollicking bedroom farce; the the cast also features: Ernest Bentley (Tournel), Wesley Cady (Antoinette), Devri Chism (Eugenie), James Kern (Rugby), Michael Manocchio (Etienne), Cody Robison (Finache), Nick Stockwell (Ferraillon), Tiffany Michelle Thompson (Olympia) and Brandon A. Wright (Baptiste).
This show is punctuated by two 10-minute intermissions to make a scene change, and it is worth staying to watch at least one of them. Scenic Designer Tonae Mitsuhashi has created a lavish Parisian parlor complete with elaborately painted wall panels and multiple doors. This is manipulated like a magicians box to become the gauche Frisky Puss Hotel. Kudos to director Shelley Butler, with help from Brian Dambacher (Technical Director), for making even this detail fun to watch.
The costumes by John Woodland are also a treat, with gorgeous full-skirted crinolines on the women, beautiful tweeds on the English gentleman, and a military uniform on the fascist hotelier, replete with Sam Brown belt. The production team also includes: Lyndee Hallahan (Stage Manager), Brian Haven (Assistant Stage Manager), Amos Woodard (Lighting Designer), Tom Libertiny (Sound Designer), Stephanie Baugher (Properties Master), Mario Raymond (Master Electrician), and JP Hitesman (Publicist).
“A Flea in Her Ear” runs through May 8 with performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and matinees on Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the Box Office at 313-577-2972. The Hilberry Theatre is located on the campus of Wayne State University and is located at 4743 Cass Ave. in Detroit. The theatre provides listening devices and wheelchair seating upon request.