JUNE 2023 | Volume 228
Photographer - Nancy Caldwell.
Farce is brainless comedy. It turns human beings into automatons, mindlessly pursuing sex or favour or a hiding place from some other person pursuing her or his fixed passion, often involving mistaken identity. The comedy is physical: people fall down, bump into one another (making the bumpee spin like a top), slap and kick, get slapped and kicked, run for cover, race in and out of doors, struggle to pull their pants up or secure their underwear that has fallen into someone else’s hands. Characters in farce can often be identified by a single exaggerated quality: pretentiousness or drunkenness, an accent or speech defect, a propensity to repeat themselves. Farce, mostly dumb, can still be clever and, at its best, very funny.
United Players’ production of the classic 19th century French farce A Flea in Her Ear, adapted for modern audiences by David Ives, contains all of the above and much, much more. One may sincerely ask why any company would choose to do a farce rather than a comedy with issues and ideas. One answer is that audiences appreciate being made to laugh without necessarily having to think. Another is that we admire the cleverness, the way disparate parts are put together, like that perpetual motion machine outside Science World, where balls fall, making chains move, causing collisions that set off noises and animate other elements of the machine to accelerate, etc. A third answer involves the challenges farce poses to the director, actors and designers.
Director Brian Parkinson rises to the challenge of directing 14 actors though three acts and 2 ½ hours of chaos. Chris Bayne’s set in Act 2 has seven doors and a couple of windows, and Parkinson has his cast make use of all of them, many at the same time, often at top speed. Individual gags number in the many dozens, possibly in the hundreds, and enough of them connect to keep the audience laughing much of the time, despite a few longeurs. And the fully committed actors rarely miss a beat.
The plot revolves around the attempt of Raymonde Chandebise (Tanya Elchuk) to discover whether her husband Victor (Brian Hinson) is having an affair. Raymonde is aided by her friend Lucienne (Christine Reinfort). The action moves from the elegant Chandebise home to the aptly named notorious Frisky Puss Hotel, Ferraillon (Bill McNaughton) proprietor. The fact that the hotel porter Poche (Hinson again) looks exactly like Victor causes untold confusions.
Other key protagonists are pretentious ladies’ man Tournel (Jordan Navratil), Victor’s friend Dr.Finache (David Wallace) and a man named Camille (Adam Manfredi), whose exact connection to the others escaped me and whose cleft palate makes him hard to understand—a comic element perhaps not in the best of taste.
Hinson is the play’s comic hero, making quick entrances, exits, and changes of Gina Morel’s turn-of-the-century period costumes, clearly and energetically delineating his two characters. All the principals do fine comic work, as do the maids (Fernanda Aguilar and Tyra d’Costa), a strange Englishman occupying a room of the hotel (David Abbott), and the rest.
But my favourite is the very funny Spaniard Don Carlos Homenides de Histangua (Mathew Ramer), Lucienne’s husband, whose thick accent, English malapropisms, and propensity toward violence (always threatened, never delivered) are big and bold as farcical actions must be, yet as subtly contained as farce will allow. Ramer’s acting takes high honours.A Flea in Her Ear is a lot of fun, no one on stage got hurt the day I saw it, and for 2 ½ hours you can forget about Ukraine, inflation, and Donald Trump. Can we ask much more from our theatres?
get in touch with vancouverplays:
Vancouver's arts and culture website providing theatre news, previews and reviews