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A CurtainUp Review
A Flea In Her Ear
By Elyse Sommer
The flea in the ear of Madame Chandebise (Kali Rocha) is the uneasy feeling she has about her husband's (Mark Linn-Baker) fidelity. There was also a flea buzzing in my ear as I watched the first act of the Roundabout's revival of the Feydeau bedroom farce. "Shouldn't you be laughing more? Shouldn't the always appreciative Roundabout audience be laughing more?" buzzed the flea.
Sure, we should have. After all this is the work of George Feydeau, the man whose name has become synonymous with classic French farce. Factor in a director who's himself a master comic (Bill Irwin) plus fourteen seasoned actors to spin in and out of the various doors of Douglas Stein's handsomely appointed turn-around set, and Feydeau's sexual intrigues and mistaken identities should have us in stitches. Trouble is that except for the laughs spurred by a character who has a speech disability which prevents him from pronouncing his consonants, (Shaun Pauell) that first forty minutes simply doesn't grab us by the funny bone.
It's all pleasant enough with several of the supporting players -- Angie Phillips, Richard B. Shull and the above-mentioned Shaun Powell -- nicely establishing themselves as able farceurs. Mark McKinney's is an amusingly jealous husband who shoots off more malaprops than bullets. The main misunderstanding -- the arrival of a package containing Mr. Chandebise's suspenders and marked with the return address of a hotel of dubious repute -- lays the groundwork for the numerous sub-plots that will keep you busy watching those entrances and exits.
The flea buzzing in my ear did leave long enough in the second act for a few laughs. James Lally was amusing as the Hotel Pussycat proprietor, a nice hybrid of Captain Peacock in Are You Being Served and John Cleese's Fawlty Towers proprietor. Unfortunately this also serves as a reminder that these British sitcoms better capture the true Feydeau spark than this production which too often has everyone rushing around madly but all the while seeming to stand still. The one true Feydeauan scene unfortunately doesn't kick in until the very end when Mark Linn-Baker makes the most of his double role as the pompous Mr. Chandebise and his hapless double the Hotel Pussycat's bellboy with an inspired bit of lunacy. It makes one dream about seeing Mr. Irwin interacting with Mr. Linn-Baker on rather than off stage.
Considering all its assets -- the whirlwind pace at which the director moves the large and able cast around the versatile set and Bill Kellard's amusing costumes, Mark O'Donnell's and Jean-Marie Bessett's brisk adaptation -- its too bad that this hour and a half makes such a flea-sized impression.