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A Flea in Her Ear: There are powders for that

by | Jun 4, 2023 | Review | 0 comments

publicity photo for A Flea in Her Ear

Matthew Hamer and Brian Hinson in A Flea in Her Ear (Photo by Nancy Caldwell)

All sorts of people call A Flea in Her Ear one of the great farces.

I’m not sure if the script is salvageable.

Written by Georges Feydeau in 1907 and seen here in the 2006 adaptation by David Ives, Flea concerns a woman named Raymonde Chandebise who suspects her husband Victor of cheating on her. With her friend Lucienne, Raymonde sets out to entrap Victor in a place Ives calls the Frisky Puss Hotel. For complicated reasons, Lucienne’s husband Don Carlos thinks Lucienne is going to the hotel for an assignation with Victor, and things keep ramping up until, by Act 2, all the main characters, plus their friends and several of the Chandebise servants converge on the Frisky Puss and mayhem ensues.

I’m for mayhem. And I love a good farce when it’s working, as the saying goes, like a well-oiled machine. But two of the gears in A Flea in Her Ear are dangerously rusty.

One of those gears is easily comprehensible. Victor Emmanuel’s nephew Camille has a cleft palate — and the way he talks is supposed to be funny. It’s not. But there it is for three acts: a running gag in which a doctor gives Camille a prosthesis that clears up his speech, but then he loses it, and so on. Still not funny.

The other gear, the characterization of Don Carlos, is more complicated because it’s both offensive and funny. (Stay with me.) Don Carlos is a full-on Hispanic stereotype: as presented, his accent is ridiculous; he’s oversexed; his emotions are out of control; and, although he’s basically a goodhearted guy, he can be violent. Don Carlos is a cartoon of a ridiculous outsider. And those cartoons are drawn to keep outsiders outside.

At the same time, reactivity is the lifeblood of farce and Don Carlos is all about reactivity. So, putting aside the ethnic component for a moment — to the degree that you can — Don Carlos is a fantastic clown. And Matthew Ramer, the guy who’s playing him in this United Players production, is far and away the best thing in the show. As Don Carlos, Ramer’s emotions are explosive and changeable. He’s responsive and inventive. And Ramer is full-on: he couldn’t be more committed if he were delivering this performance while skydiving. This actor is bringing everything you want to see in a farce. He made me laugh a lot and I wanted to see more of him onstage.

But I don’t care if I never see another Don Carlos again because the math doesn’t work out. Ramer is doing exactly what farce requires him to do but the vehicle, the character within which he’s doing it, is insulting.

Let’s be clear about something else: farce is really, really hard to pull off. And A Flea in Her Ear is frickin’ huge: it requires fourteen actors, including one piece of double casting. United Players is a semi-professional company, which means this project is ambitious for them, probably too ambitious. Under Brian Parkinson’s direction, the company gets through it reasonably well considering.

Brian Hinson (Victor) is clearly having a good time, which makes for a layered and lively piece of work. And Tanya Elchuk makes clear emotional sense of Raymonde. Some other performances are a little more tattered, though: playing Victor’s friend Tournel, for instance, the generally admirable actor Jordon Navratil dilutes his work through the overuse of throwaway gestures.

Gina Morel’s costumes are elegant, but Chris Bayne’s set is an inelegant box. (I’m sure money is an issue.)

Director Brian Parkinson’s attempts at madcap blocking don’t work.

And the plot sets up so many complications that resolving them takes too long. Speaking of which, including the curtain speech, this show runs two and a half hours. If you don’t feel like you’re on a rollercoaster — and I didn’t — that’s plenty of time to notice how poorly A Flea in Her Ear has aged.


Adapted by David Ives. A United Players production. On Saturday, June 3. Running the Jericho Arts Centre until June 25. Tickets and info

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