Friday, September 8, 2017

“A Flea in Her Ear” - American Players Theatre

A Flea in Her Ear by Georges Feydeau, adapted and directed by David Frank.  A wild sex farce with nebbish husbands, neurotic wives, sensible friends given wrong information, a befuddled look-alike, a jealous husband with a gun and a young man with a hilarious speech impediment.  And if the theater doesn’t apologize for that, why should I?  At least they didn’t use the phrase “harelip” in this adaptation.

In the best farces – the ones that resonate – the audience has somebody to root for.  Lend Me a Tenor: Max and Tito are both extremely sympathetic.  Max (A) wants to be an opera singer and (B) is in semi-unrequited love.  Tito (A) just needs a rest and (B) is very generous in encouraging Max.  A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Pseudolus, a Sgt. Bilko-like con man, is a slave who will do anything to be free.  Even if the characters have some less than sterling qualities, we want them to achieve their goals.

As a director, I much prefer these farces to anything by Ray Cooney, who writes about assholes and dimwits who fully deserve whatever they get.  If you get the audience to like your characters, you don’t have to work as hard to get the laughs.  It’s still mind-bendingly hard work, but you’re no longer adding to your burden.

The “YesThank you!” moment in David Frank’s production of A Flea in Her Ear at American Players Theatre comes when stuffy insurance executive Chandebise, recipient of an Anonymous Love Letter (sent as a trap by his neurotic wife), comes to the conclusion that a mistake has been made and that the letter was really intended for his handsome best friend.  Until now amazed and entranced, the actor, David Daniel, suddenly deflates with logic and self-deprecation – (paraphrased) “It must be for you.  How could I possibly think a woman would be interested in me?” – with so forlorn a face that a wave of “Oooooooooooh!” emanated*** from the women in the audience.

And Daniel put the audience in his pocket and went on his merry way.

One of the many lovable qualities about the American Players Theatre is their assumption that the audience has not only intelligence but an attention span.  A Flea in Her Ear is a three hour farce (with two intermissions.)  It dragged a teeny bit in Act Three, but that’s on Feydeau’s shoulders, not the production’s.

The action was brilliantly inventive, and the characters were sincere, which is crucial.  Good farce isn’t just a series of goofy things happening to silly people.  The characters all want something desperately, and they’re dead serious about it.

I’ll be here all night if I try to single out any performer.  They are uniformly excellent, which is the sign of a good director – the aforementioned David Frank.  And I already talked about David Daniel, brilliant as both the repressed Chandebise and Poche, the drunken doorman.  So I won’t mention the fireworks performance of Kelsey Brennan as the histrionically neurotic Raymonde, Marcus Truschinki’s handsome idiot Tournel, Andrea San Miguel’s radiantly sane BFF Lucienne, Juan Rivera Lebron’s ferocious Don Homenides or, in a smaller role, Tracy Michelle Arnold as a befuddled hostess with a flat, Alice Kramden delivery… if Alice was an ex-prostitute.

There was a deserved standing ovation at curtain call.  The cast and crew worked their asses off and were hilarious doing it.

(I'm ending all three current reviews with this, as it is an important point.)
One thing that aids APT in presenting 2½-to-3 hour shows is the effort involved in getting there.  From DuPage County, Illinois, it’s a long drive, followed by a half mile uphill walk to get to the theatre.  (Shuttles are available.)  After all that work, you really don’t want to turn right around and go home after 1½ hours.  You go there expecting to be grandly entertained for an entire evening.  And your expectations are grandly fulfilled.

If you love classical theater, you need to go to American Players Theatre.
If you want to love full out classical theater, but have only seen abridgements or bad productions, you need to give APT a shot, because you will be converted.
If you hate classical theater… go away.

*** I was going to say “fauceted,” but when I checked to see if that really was a verb, I found that it was included in the Urban Dictionary with a meaning not quite what I wanted to convey.


“A Flea in Her Ear” by Georges Feydeau.  Adapted and directed by David Frank.

When: Through October 7

Where: American Players Theatre, 5950 Golf Course Road, Spring Green, Wisconsin, 53588

Tickets & Information:

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