Farce can be insipid drivel or sublime madness, depending on the play and the wit of the director. Fortunately, Georges Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear at the University of Colorado-Boulder is more sublime than insipid, more caustic madness than silly drivel. And though this production can lose its way momentarily in its young cast's bumptious energy, it returns to its deranged path each time and ends with a bang, not a whimper.
The story involves a series of misunderstandings and mistaken identities, and none of it makes much sense. Chandebise is experiencing sexual dysfunction, so his wife, Raymonde, suspects him of adultery and lays a trap for him involving a letter she dictates to her best friend, Lucienne. But Lucienne is married to a very jealous Spanish gentleman who recognizes his wife's handwriting when Chandebise shows him the letter. The Spaniard rushes off to catch his wife flagrante delicto at the notorious Hotel Coq D'Or.
The insecure Chandebise believes the letter was actually meant for his handsome friend Tournel, who in turn is in love with Raymonde. Meanwhile, a randy doctor takes whatever female lies his way, and Chandebise's nephew Camille, whose speech impediment is a running joke, pursues the cook, a cross-eyed sweetie whose butler husband neglects her. When Chandebise rushes off to the hotel to save his wife's best friend from her husband, he finds the hotel owner a very strange man indeed. But then, everyone at the hotel confuses the drunken porter with Chandebise. The same actor plays both roles, and part of the fun is seeing the big guy (Paul Colbert) get back on stage fast in correct costume for the opposite character. The third act untangles all the webs of deceit, and conjugal bliss, naturally, triumphs over all.
Since most of the actors at the University Theatre are youthful, the older characters they play lack the weight of age. But it's easy to overlook such minor foibles when so many of the actors are so ingenious. Alison Osincup as the outraged Raymonde is all pluck and single-minded fire --very classy, very focused. Jenn Zukowski is a scream as the nymphet cook, Antoinette. While Paul Colbert runs hither and yon as both the straight-arrow Chandebise and the loutish porter, it's really Maiz Lucero's brilliantly complicated Carlos Homenides de Histangua that makes you giggle. And Corey Simpson's gyrating satyr, Tournel, oozes manic passion in a wonderful array of arched brows and rubbery moves.
Director Lynn Nichols flashes every trick in the book. From exuberant pratfalls to extravagant body language to hilarious characterizations, he keeps the pace breakneck, the physical comedy smooth and inventive (most of the time) and the language sharp. The first act is almost perfect.
A few problems develop during the second act--at the hotel with its rotating bed, and toward the end, when the actors get a little too frenetic. But the third act finds its proper level again and returns to a masterly absurdity. The curtain call is a little gift of final fun that sends us out into the night, glad that we are all so foolish.