A Flea in Her Ear at Westport Playhouse

“Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater and film critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

Being able to pull off a silly farce isn’t an easy task. First, well, it’s silly. Second, it has to work. For those of you who recall the famed British comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus, their sketches could be wildly funny and clever- as well as silly. Or they could fall completely flat.

Georges Feydeau was one of the most famous creators of silly French farces and he particularly loved to lampoon the upper class. Westport Country Playhouse is now running a new version of his ‘A Flea in Her Ear,’ written by David Ives, through July 28th.

I happened to run into several people I knew when I saw ‘A Flea in Her Ear’ this past weekend and the current Broadway farce ‘The Play that Goes Wrong’ was frequently mentioned. I reviewed that play last year and noted that, although I sometimes wanted to kick myself for what I was laughing at, it was still very funny.

Robert Adelman Hancock, Lee E. Ernst

As directed by Mark Lamos, ‘A Flea in Her Ear’ isn’t quite as successful as that but, with the game ensemble of 14 actors, it certainly isn’t for lack of trying. As Lamos writes in the playbill, this new version is a co-production between the Resident Ensemble Players and the Westport Playhouse and it premiered in Delaware in March.

Co-productions between theater companies are becoming more common as they allow them to create more elaborate- and expensive- sets and costumes and also to use more actors- because the production costs are split between the two theater companies.

Here, the scenic design- by Kristen Robinson- and the costumes- by Sara Jean Tosetti- are terrific, as this play is set in 1907 Paris.

The plot features several characters- in more ways than one: one who speaks almost unintelligibly through most of the play- because he lost his dentures- and another who keeps complaining because nobody has called him.

David Beach, John Resenhouse, Lee E. Ernst

But the key characters, as played by Lee Ernst, are Victor, who is married, and Poche- a simpleton hotel bell hop who happens to look exactly like Victor. Misunderstanding and confusion ensues- and some of it is pretty funny.

A key problem with this production is it runs too long- three acts and close to 2-1/2 hours (with the two intermissions) is just too much for a farce and, though the crowd gave enthusiastic applause at the end on the night I was there, it had thinned out some by that third act.

Antoinette Robinson, Michael Gotch

My favorite part was the middle of the second act- which I found truly inspired- as Ernst had the complicated duty of rapidly changing his characters- and costumes- of Victor and Poche back and forth while the ensemble chased each other trying to hide from some characters and find others. Yes, it’s all very silly, but if Michael Gotch- playing Don Carlos as a send up of Antonio Banderas’ Zorro while looking like Prince- doesn’t amuse you then check to be sure you still have a sense of humor. Chewing up the scenery, he appeared to be the audience favorite, judging from the raucous applause he received at the end.

Sadly Act 2, after a terrific build up, spirals too far out of control at its end and the relatively short Act 3 isn’t strong enough to completely save the evening- but there is still some fun to be had before then and I give ‘A Flea in Her Ear’ 3 stars out of 5.

Antoinette Robinson, Elizabeth Heflin. All show photos by Carole Rosegg.

If you are a fan of silly farce and don’t want to go to Broadway to catch ‘The Play that Goes Wrong’ before it closes next month, then you might want to give this a go. It runs at Westport Playhouse through July 28th.

Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com,  where you will find all my WICC 600 reviews. This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!