I am usually drawn to Fringe shows either by the material or by the personnel in the show, so I couldn’t miss Pulse Theatre’s production of Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear. It’s directed by Aleksandar Sasha Lukac, a director who always makes me laugh, especially when he’s directing one of my favourite playwrights.
Toronto could stand to show us more Feydeau, a playwright who is a special challenge with his fast paced story-telling, his clockwork plot construction and requirement of endless energy. There are no small parts in this play, as everyone has their moments pushing the plot along, especially in a production adding wacky dance numbers during scene changes. There are very few moments in this show that aren’t suggestively sexy in their physicality.
Oh to be young again.
A story centred on questions of marital fidelity is only helped by showing the sexual tensions & subtexts with nothing held back. I understand that this particular farce has a long history in Serbia, a theatre community who influenced Lukac’s unique physical style. While he’s been in Toronto for decades now, both as an important teacher and practitioner, he maintains ties with the old country, regularly taking shows across the ocean.
Spoiler alert. Theatre Pulse’s Artistic Director Mladen Obradovic has a key role: or perhaps I should say roles. The hair-style tricks may not fool you at all, especially if you read in the program that Obradovic is playing two roles. He does an amazing job as two people. This is a special kind of theatrical magic, where those onstage are fooled in a plot involving mistaken identity –due to the two identical people, played by one person–while those of us in the audience may choose to be fooled as well to maximize the fun.
Some performances are more cartoonish, some more like real people. I can’t decide which I prefer, only that Lukac’s approach requires them all, as they all earn laughs at different times for different sorts of actions.
Madeleine Rose, Xavier de Guzman, and A’mar Wharton-Matthew, as Antoinette, Étienne and Camille start us off in a realm of what I’d like to call physical eloquence, beautiful bodies in motion, sometimes moving in the most unexpected ways. For Lukac whose comedy is informed by the wisdom of the Commedia dell’Arte, every moment and every line become opportunities for discovery in the script. While she’s a burlesque artist, which may be getting a bit like the flavor du jour for theatre directors, this is so much more than just a glimpse of skin. All three create intriguing parts out of small roles, setting up everything that follows in the play. As the commedia often showed us (even though Feydeau is a million miles away from CdA), servants may be the most authentic people on the stage.
Adrian Milan and Suzanne Miller are Don Carlos & his wife Lucienne, a powerful couple who aren’t just visually striking. Milan knocks the play out of the park with his volcanic temper tantrums, a cartoonish thug whose sense of menace is all too real: even though I couldn’t stop laughing. There are no weak spots in the cast, no small parts in this ensemble, who keep it moving at breakneck speed from start to finish. It’s a good thing the space is air conditioned.
Pulse Theatre’s A Flea in Her Ear continues at the Factory Theatre on Bathurst until July 16.