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Polished, Delightful “Flea” Reigns at ANW

: Elyse Mirto, Jill Hill and Jonathan Bray in the classic farce

: Elyse Mirto, Jill Hill and Jonathan Bray in the classic farce “A Flea in Her Ear” at A Noise Within [Photo: Craig Schwartz]

The French farce, with its slamming doors, mistaken identities and outrageous slapstick is its own kind of art form. Of all those who have constructed these intricate comedies, none did so with more sophistication than George Feydeau. As wildly funny as any farce, Feydeau’s also contain significant undercurrents of social commentary, and a somewhat surreal quality which enhances the comedy.

Now, in a comparatively new translation by David Ives, one of Feydeau’s best and most well known farces has arrived at A Noise Within in Pasadena. “A Flea in Her Ear” has all the great elements: cases of mistaken identity, whispers of infidelity, elaborate plots which go awry, and impressively physical comedy. Under the direction of co-artistic director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, and now set not in the 19th Century France Feydeau knew, but rather the 1950s, all of this comes together in one massive, brisk, howlingly funny whole.

The plot, such as it is, surrounds the household of the distinguished insurance executive Victor Emmanuel Chandebise. Based on changes in his passion for her, his wife, Raymonde, is convinced he is being unfaithful. To confirm this, she and her best friend Lucienne, a woman married to a Spanish diplomat, decide to set a trap for Victor at a notorious “hotel” used mostly for rendezvous. What the two women do not know is that both Victor’s nephew Camille and his business partner Romain are very familiar with this establishment. In short order, chaos ensues.

In the dual, and exhausting, role of Chandebise and the hotel’s porter, Geoff Elliott creates two completely separate physicalities – a trick which only enhances the comic effect. Elyse Mirto, as Raymonde, creates a woman of comparative honor caught in events which, even if of her own making, shock her with a lack of control. Jill Hill’s Lucienne makes a great foil for her, and Luis Fernandez-Gil offers up the perfectly stereotypical outraged Spanish nobleman as Lucienne’s jealous husband.

Also worthy of note are Joshua Wolf Coleman as the practical family doctor, Jonathan Bray as the amorous Romain, and Jeremy Rabb as the former military man who runs the questionable hotel. Still, of all the performances, none matches both the silliness and the delivery of Rafael Goldstein’s Camille – a man whose undeveloped soft palate has left him unable to use consonants without a prosthesis which becomes its own comic focus.

“A Flea in Her Ear” is not profound, though there are messages within. Rather, it is a particularly find example of the sheer joy of well produced farce. The audience laughter proves constant and hearty. Rodriguez-Elliott knows how to make full use of the ANW stage space, and the results are satisfyingly energetic and nonstop. Fred Kinny’s comically unrealistic set, with its many doors, works perfectly with this equally ridiculous, but delicious silliness.

In short, ANW’s “A Flea in Her Ear” is a true must-see. It plays in repertory with the upcoming productions of Anouilh’s “Antigone” and Miller’s “All My Sons”.

What: “A Flea in Her Ear” When: through November 22; 8 p.m. October 2, 3, and 23, and November 7 and 13; 7 p.m. November 1 and 22, 7:30 p.m. October 22, and November 12; 2 p.m. October 3, November 1, 7 and 22 Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: from $44, $20 student rush with ID Info: (626) 356-3100 ex. 1 or http://www.anoisewithin.org

Old Farce, Delightfully New: “Figaro” at A Noise Within

 Jeremy Guskin (Figaro) and Angela Sauer (Suzanne). [Photo: Craig Schwartz]


Jeremy Guskin (Figaro) and Angela Sauer (Suzanne). [Photo: Craig Schwartz]

Ever wondered where the expression “French Farce” got its start? Surely one would be the works of Beaumarchais, celebrating the fictional barber from Seville and French nobleman’s retainer, Figaro. Known to modern audience s more as the subject of comic operas by Mozart and by Rossini, the original plays were classic farce. Now, at A Noise Within, Charles Morey’s admittedly loose adaptation of Beaumarchais’ “Figaro” seems destined to be a solid hit. It’s just that funny.

The tale is familiar, but the rendition proves delightfully surprising anyway. Figaro, the valet to the Count, is about to marry Suzanne, the maid to the Countess and his true love. Suzanne clues him to the fact the Count’s gift of a bed and a room of their own, situated between that of the Count and the Countess, is a matter of convenience but not for Figaro and his bride. The Count is determined to have Figaro’s bride as well – and Figaro is furious.

Suzanne points out that the Countess is still in love, even if her husband is not, and a plot begins to form. Meanwhile the older housekeeper, Marceline, lusts after Figaro, family physician Dr. Bartholo loathes him, and gardener Antonio’s daughter, Fanchette, falls for the silly romantic boy Cherubin. If this sounds like a collection of circular stories, you’re right. But just wait.

In the hands of director Michael Michetti, the enterprise becomes a delightful romp. Though Jeanine A. Ringer’s multi-doored set has some functional issues, there is still the appropriately silly manner of comings and goings, hidden listeners and mistaken agendas. Switched identities lead to laughter, and the net result is suitable and usually happy endings. Still, it is the romp one remembers.

Much of the pacing and an equal percentage of the hilarity comes thanks to Jeremy Guskin’s Figaro. His arch approach to the character, his sly asides to the audience, and his sheer comedic physicality all work together to set the tone and the pace for the rest of the production. Indeed, this wry Figaro proves almost contemporary in his humor, perhaps because adaptor Morey readily admits “freely adapting” the older tale to meet tastes of a modern sensibility, and possibly because Guskin is just that funny.

Angela Sauer’s Suzanne provides a most suitable foil for this Figaro – strong, sardonic, and wise. Andrew Ross Wynn makes the Count a pompous grotesque, which aides the comedy, and Elyse Mirto’s sexually frustrated Countess makes a manipulatable foil for Suzanne. Jeanne Sakata vibrates with frustrated passion as Marceline, while Alan Blumenfeld makes a stuffy and distanced Dr. Bartholo. Will Bradley has a ball as the overly romantic Cherubin, while Natalie De Luna makes a seriously innocent Fanchette. Still, it seems the one performer having the most fun has to be Joshua Wolf Coleman, who becomes the simple Antonio, the pompous music master Bazile, and a toadying, speech-impaired judge, by turns.

The pacing, thanks to Michetti, stays lively, the jokes fresh, and the humor impressively current. Let’s face it – some things are just universally funny, and this production, given this sense of physical comedy combined with a classic, farcical set of situations, fits the bill to perfection. “Figaro” is only one of three shows which will play in repertory through this spring at ANW. It follows the spare “Threepenny Opera,” opened recently, and will be joined at the end of the month by a new version of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” Meaning this is the one to come and laugh at, and with. So do it. You’ll feel better by the end.

What: “Figaro” When: 8 p.m. March 14, April 4, 10, and May 1; 7:30 p.m. April 9 and 30; 7 p.m. April 19 and May 10; 2 p.m. March 14, April 4 and 19, and May 10; 4 p.m. April 5 Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $40 general, $20 student rush Info: (626) 356-3100 ext 1 or http://www.anoisewithin.org

Timing is Everything: “Boeing-Boeing” Bounces into La Mirada

The cast of La Mirada's "Boeing-Boeing": l.to r. - Michelle Azar, Carter Roy, Kalie Quinones, Melanie Lora, Amy Rutberg and Marc Valera

The cast of La Mirada’s “Boeing-Boeing”: l.to r. – Michelle Azar, Carter Roy, Kalie Quinones, Melanie Lora, Amy Rutberg and Marc Valera

Classic French farce depends on three elements: timing, titillation, and stereotype. The comedy is all about slamming doors, larger-than-life characterizations, and a hint of sexuality which provides the urgency in a ridiculous situation. Take, as example, “Boeing-Boeing,” now receiving a riotously silly run as part of the McCoy Rigby Entertainment Series at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.

“Boeing-Boeing” actually is a French farce, as in written originally in French. Beverley Cross and Francis Evans translated it from Marc Camoletti’s original. As such it has that slightly snooty attitude toward those who are not French which adds to the comedy.

The time is the early 1960s. Robert has come to visit his good friend Bernard at his Paris apartment. There, he discovers Bernard’s elaborately planned, deeply lascivious life. The man is “engaged” to three women, all foreign stewardesses. He lives by the airline time-tables, swapping women every few days as one leaves and another arrives for holdovers in this capital city. Facilitating this, and grumbling with impressive wisdom all the while, is Bernard’s long-suffering maid/cook Berthe.

Then, thanks to a powerful storm, the schedules of Bernard’s various fiances collide. Robert must help his friend continue the ruse. The results are classic, and very funny.

Carter Roy makes Bernard articulate and precise, and very pleased with himself. As the comparative country boy, Marc Valera’s innocent Robert creates some of the best physical comedy – outrageous and subtle by turns. Melanie Lora makes a practical, commanding and straightforwardly sexy (and amazingly slithery) American as the stewardess from TWA. Kalie Quinones evokes passion and intensity – that “we fight then we make love” quotient – of the stereotypical Italian as the stewardess from Alitalia. Amy Rutberg goes completely over the top with a German as worthy of a Mel Brooks satire as of a job as stewardess from Lufthansa.

Yet none of these folks, funny though they are, hold a candle to the performance of Michelle Azar, completely nonstereotypical as the exhausted, and occasionally disgusted maid. She does more, often by underplaying, to emphasize the comedy of the piece than any other character.

Director Jeff Maynard has the timing of this thing down cold. He pushes for the stereotypes in just the right way to keep them comic rather than uncomfortable, and makes the men just polar opposite enough to create a comedic tension. It all works.

Kevin Clowes has created a high class, bright and fancy apartment with lots of slammable doors. Helen Butler has created uniforms for our flying women more out of a man’s fantasy than the reality of flight wear, but they match the heightened silliness of the play and the performers in just the right way.

Once it gets going – and there is quite a bit of exposition to get through before the silliness really sings – “Boeing-Boeing” is simply funny, even when it is sexist. There are moments, as in any good, silly farce, when you may be wiping tears of laughter. Listen closely to hear just what the French, in their comedies, really think of the rest of the world. That, in itself, can be a great source of amusement.

But mostly, “Boeing-Boeing” is a nice, uncomplicated, well crafted farce. The elements are all there. They work just as they should. The audience goes home chuckling. Done, and done.

What: “Boeing-Boeing” When: Through February 10, 7:30 Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Where: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd. in La Mirada How Much: $20 – $70 Info: (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310 or http://www.lamiradatheatre.com

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