Feydeau farce closes Powerhouse season
Just like Vegas, what happens in a Paris hotel room, should stay in a Paris hotel room. Just ask poor Victor Emmanuel Chandebise, the lead character in Georges Feydeau’s bedroom farce A Flea in Her Ear.
The last play of Powerhouse Theatre’s 2013-14 season, and the Vernon community theatre’s entry into this year’s Okanagan Zone Drama Festival, A Flea in Her Ear revolves around a case of mistaken identity, make that identities — the cast is an ensemble of 14 characters, after all.
Written in France’s Belle Époque era just before the First World War, and translated in 1960 by British playwright John Mortimer, the comedy has a Fawlty Towers-type of humour, says director Monty Hughes, who has helmed Flea three times before at other playhouses, and is bringing it to Powerhouse for the first time.
“It has these characters who are all serious about their situations, but it’s like watching someone hit their thumb with a hammer We find it funny, whereas, they don’t,” said Hughes.
“It’s like watching a train wreck involving a whole pile of people.”
The wreckage begins when Raymonde Chandebise (played here by Bev Steeves) suspects her husband Victor Emmanuel (Kelly Winston), manager of a life insurance firm, of cheating. With the help of her friend, Lucienne (Monica Kleyn), she concocts a trap involving an anonymous letter that leads to a rendezvous at the sleazy Hotel Coq d’Or.
And that’s where the shenanigans really begin.
Like Fawlty Towers, Upstairs, Downstairs, or a much less serious Downton Abbey, the characters include the Chandebises’ servants as well as hotel employees, including a very familiar looking and inebriated porter named Poche.
“Everyone gets involved in the folly. No one is left out,” said Hughes. “There are these stories within stories.”
With all these people on the stage, the physical demands by the actors are significant, and an even bigger job for both Hughes and stage manager Willem Roell to make sure everyone is positioned properly.
“It is a really complicated play to block. We don’t want actors bumping into furniture or each other,” said Hughes.
With the play set in the early part of last century, costume designer Joan Sasges has also had to come up with outfits that reflect the times.
“She did a lot of research on that time period; what was in, and what was not,” said Hughes. “The tango came along around then, so women with full corsets couldn’t do the dance. It led to a change in corsets and bustles were out.”
Another challenge for the actors, besides trying not to trip one another up, has been the dialect. Besides France, the characters come from different parts of Europe, including German hotel guest Herr Schwarz (Cliff Heinrich), who speaks little or no French, and hot-blooded Spaniard Don Carlos Homenides De Histangua (Matt MacLaren). Then there’s Victor Emmanuel’s nephew, Camille (Justin Kopy), who has a speech impediment and cannot pronounce consonants properly.
To help with the task of accents and enunciation, Hughes enlisted the help of Powerhouse alumnus Jo Jones.
“She is helping with the diction and the true pronunciation on how you would say these words,” said Hughes. “She is doing a wonderful job.”
Another challenge has been the set. With two acts, one set in the Chandebises’ home and the other at the hotel, set designer Eugene Leveque and set decorator Sarah “Scotty” McLean have had to come up with a way to make the transformation as seamless as possible, said Hughes.
“It took a long time to come to grips with the design,” said Hughes. “Because it is a major set change from the home to hotel, all the decor is different, however, we use similar set pieces but change them. For example, a large bay window in the home becomes a revolving bed in the hotel.”
The cast and crew have their work cut out for them as after the play’s regular run, the stage has to be set the very next day for the O-Zone Drama Festival, which starts May 11 at Powerhouse Theatre as host venue. (More information on the festival is available at http://theatrebc.org/zone-festivals/) But first, A Flea in her Ear opens at the Powerhouse Theatre Wednesday.
The show runs nightly except Sundays and Mondays at 7:30 p.m. until May 10. Matinée performances take place Sunday, May 4 and Saturday, May 10 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the Ticket Seller box office. Call 250-549-7469 or order online at www.ticketseller.ca.