theatre preview

by Georges Feydeau, trans. John Mortimer
Stanley Theatre
September 23-October 24

When the Stanley Theatre's curtain rises on the drawing room set for A Flea in Her Ear, you get to see pretty much everything that classic sex farce is about. In a two-dimensional world (Ted Roberts' gorgeous trompe l'oeil photo montage of Paris in black-and-white, printed on flats), men and women are reduced to lust-and jealousy-machines, driven by libido, stupidity and misunderstanding through many doors in front of and behind which the increasingly frantic action unfolds. Writing at the turn of the century, when Ibsen, Strindberg and Chekhov were trying to restore social and psychological depth to modern drama, Feydeau said fuhgedaboudit--there's nothing behind the surface but more surface.

For this stuff to work it's got to be fast, furious and funny. Dean Paul Gibson's Arts Club production is very much hit and miss. With a jealous wife, an impotent husband, friends, relatives, servants and a doctor to introduce, the silly plot takes a long time and an awful lot of talk to unfold. And in the third act it takes forever to resolve after a series of only mildly amusing confusions involving the master of the house and the Hotel Coq d'Or's look-alike porter (Tom Scholte in a dual role). The show works best in the wild second act at the hotel where the various assignations take place, when at least 12 of the 13 actors get involved, the pacing and physical comedy get ramped up, and choreographed comic chaos reigns supreme..

The funniest performances belong to characters exaggerated by physical and ethnic stereotyping--Allan Zinyk's hilariously incomprehensible cleft-palated Camille, Martin Sims' hot-blooded, homicidal stage Spaniard, and Joel Wirkkunen's lecherous stage German, resplendent in fishnet stockings and red pumps. Dawn Petten, very sharp as the Spaniard's wife, also gets to wear the show's two most splendid costumes. And John Murphy, presiding maniacally over the Hotel Californicate, shows once again why he may be the hottest actor in Vancouver.

The kind of mindless comic fare usually reserved for the summer, A Flea in Her Ear kicking off the fall season leaves me feeling anxious. Foolish, stupid, dick-for-brains funny . . . could this be a harbinger of things to come? George W's re-election, God forbid?

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 8:11 PM
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