Curtain Call: C’est magnifique ‘The Flea in Her Ear’ at Westport’s Playhouse

By now, most theatergoers expect the pre-curtain speech reminding everyone to look for the exits and to turn off their cell phones. It’s far more entertaining to hear it spoken in seductive French. It immediately gets the audience laughing and ready for a good time. Considering that the diagonal black curtain spells out “PARIS” in big bold letters, we are ready to experience a new version of Georges Fedeaus’ farce “A Flea in Her Ear” rendered by playwright David Ives. The last time this critic saw an area production of Fedeaus’ comedy was at Long Wharf Theatre some years ago. That production seemed to move at a much faster pace, but was far more difficult to understand.

This new version makes it quite clear that when a French woman gets a flea in her ear — translated as she suspects her husband is cheating on her — then that flea is going to be taken care of. The setting is Paris in 1907; Raymonde discovers a pair of suspenders belonging to her husband, which have been mailed to him from a shady hotel. She asks her friend Lucienne to help her get to the bottom of this. They create an anonymous perfumed love letter to set up a rendezvous to catch husband Victor in the act. As all farces go, things don’t happen the way the ladies planned. Misunderstandings, mistaken identities and plenty of slamming doors keep the Westport audience entertained.

This is a three-act play with two intermissions and unfortunately, some audience members left after Act Two thinking the play was over. Perhaps the pre-curtain speech might alert audience members to this fact since apparently some don’t read the playbill.

Lee E. Ernst plays Victor the faithful husband as well as a frantic bellboy. He is hilarious in both roles. Stephen Pelinski as Tournel who would love to have an affair with Victor’s wife is also as funny as he is dashing. Michael Gotch nearly steals the show because he is so wildly crazed as Don Garlos, the jealous fiancé of Lucienne. Elizabeth Heflin plays the refined but doubting wife Raymode with what seems like a natural sophistication. Antoinette Robinson creates a playful Lucienne until she becomes frantic when she learns her fiancé is going to kill someone in a jealous rage.

This production features a very large cast and each member performs superbly. Of special note is Mic Matarrese who plays Camille, a character who cannot pronounce consonants. He is an absolute riot because even with such a disability he is completely understood when he speaks. Of course it too is hilarious. Adding to the frenzy are: David Beach, Deena Burke, Hassan El Amin, Laura Frye, Robert Adelman Hancock, Wynn Harmon, Carine Montgertrand and John Rensenhouse. All deserve kudos.

This is a class act. The colorful sets, one a French home of culture; the other one of a seedy hotel, are quite attractive. The costumes are those one can only imagine in a sweet dream. Here they are rendered by Sara Jean Tosetti who dresses the leading ladies in gowns of powder blue and canary yellow, or turquoise with sheer white overlays. Matthew Richards’ lighting design and Fitz Patton’s sound design add to the merriment.

Mark Lamos, the current artistic director of the Westport Country Playhouse and a former artistic director of Hartford Stage and director of many Broadway shows, directs this production seamlessly. Everything fits perfectly. It plays through July 28. Box office: 203-227-4177.

Joanne Greco Rochman is a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: jgrochman@gmail.com.