Stay the Coarse

Georges Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear is anything but politically correct. The famous French farce from 1907 makes fun of anybody and everybody who happens into this utterly silly world, which has been painted in shades of gleaming white and scaldingly hot pink in the Alley's new production. Artistic director Gregory Boyd has restaged the show that he first directed to great acclaim in 1991. And he makes no apologies for the fact that Feydeau gleefully riffs on the sort of stereotypes usually reserved for the Farrelly brothers.

There's horny Camille (Jamison Stern), who chatters happily away even though he suffers from a cleft palate and thus can't pronounce a single consonant. Only those who know him well can understand him; everyone else, including the audience, is invited to laugh riotously at his feeble attempts to express himself. Don Homenides de Histangua (Noble Shropshire) is the violently jealous Spanish lover whose relentless lovemaking exhausts his lily-white-skinned wife, Lucienne (Elizabeth Heflin). He brandishes his machismo, his bad English and his big black pistol at anybody who gets in his way when he mistakenly believes Lucienne has strayed. Then we are told that pitiful Poche (James Black), the drunkard "bell boy" who appears to have all the mental energy of a slug, actually enjoys getting his backside kicked whenever he misbehaves. And in case we don't believe it, we get to watch the hotel manager, Ferraillon (Charles Krohn), actually boot the poor bastard several times over.

Clearly, Boyd is not afraid to be tasteless. He fills the stage with images that push the boundaries of the burlesque in Feydeau's script. The action is set to circus music, and most of the performers wear modified whiteface. Each and every one is a clown in this world, where the ridiculous is the norm. The action starts when Raymonde Chandebise (Kimberly King) gets an idea, an irritating flea in her ear, about her husband's infidelities. Wrong though she is, the energetic woman is determined to catch him in the act; she and her friend Lucienne devise a crazy Lucy-and-Ethel-type scheme that involves an anonymous come-hither letter, a spritz of raunchy perfume and a creamy silk-covered bed at the questionable Pink Pussycat Hotel.

When her frumpy though successful salesman husband, Victor-Emmanuel (also played by Black), receives the scarlet-colored letter, the virtuous man passes it to a friend, thus beginning a long series of misunderstandings that, in turn, leads to a series of mistaken identities, stolen smooches and Victorian undergarments flying about. Truth is, Victor-Emmanuel adores his kooky wife, whom King plays with wonderful comic energy, wildly expressive hands and enormous, always surprised eyes.

It's actually Camille, Victor-Emmanuel's randy secretary with the speech impediment, who has been doing the do at the tawdry hotel. He's hooked up with Antoinette (Teri Lamm), the amorous, pretty parlor maid, and they have a good thing going until Etienne (Paul Hope), her miserable cuckold of a husband, comes along to complicate matters.

In the second act, everyone ends up at the Pink Pussycat, where they meet a whole new set of knuckleheads, including an Australian named Rugby (Ty Mayberry), who stalks the lobby wearing socks, suspenders and striped boxers while waiting for a date who never arrives. Baptistin (David Rainey), an out-of-work actor who has found his calling in the tacky rent-a-room, often spends his nights hiding in the wall of room no. 5, where at the push of a button the sly occupant can make the bed disappear should an irate spouse suddenly arrive. The manager is a bully, and his aging wife, who went by the stage name of "Blazing Bloomers" (Bettye Fitzpatrick) in a former life, is a lush. Together they swoop through the place raising hell and kicking butt as they make this world turn around, sometimes literally.

All the romping across beds, running through rooms and leaping out windows is done with a great deal of energy by the cast. Though sometimes the actors look tuckered out by their squealing and double-taking, most do a fine job with the clowning. Tony Straiges's sets are impressive; one of the best parts of the evening is sitting through the two intermissions to watch the stagehands move the elaborate pieces on and off.

Anyone seeking the Rosetta stone for modern farces like There's Something About Mary may find it in Boyd's brazen, busy interpretation of Feydeau's Flea. Just be sure to check any cultural sensitivity with the usher when you pick up your program.

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Lee Williams