Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Flea in Her Ear, Austin Playhouse, March 27 - May 3

In the madcap 19th century world of French playwright Georges Feydeau, two qualities in farce are certain to produce merriment: man's unfulfilled desire and woman's unsatisfied curiosity.

No one ever says that, of course. This is not Oscar Wilde, his contemporary from across the channel.

The ample, delighted laughter at Austin Playhouse's production of A Flea in Her Ear is provoked by antics, deceptions and astonishing coincidences that bring respectable bourgeois folk sneaking into the shady world of the rent-by-the-hour Hotel Coq d'Or. That's the"Golden Rooster Hotel," with the bonus of the sly phallic reference for us English speakers -- in fact, Étienne the prissy butler to the Chandebise family disparages the institution as the "Hotel Cock de Whore!"

The centerpiece of the play is the voluminous bed at center stage in Act II -- focus of man's desire and woman's curiosity, and locale for wildly funny shifting and scrambling by the various characters. This being comedy, the bed never actually serves for seduction and recreation. It's variously a temptation, a hiding place, and, with the click of a strategically placed button, a turntable subterfuge that offers pretend respectability, complete with an arthritic, indignant old codger in a nightcap and nightshirt.

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