By Lauren Minore
A beautiful, open atmosphere with seven small lamps along the edge of the stage, bearing only two chairs and a table with a bell, set the tone for a peaceful evening for the production of “A Flea in Her Ear” on April 4.
Set in early 1900s Paris, the serene scenery contrasted the whirlwind of a play the viewers were about to experience.
The comedy, directed by Professor of Theater Carter Gill, engaged audiences with its dynamic cast, visionary technical elements and hilarious improvisations, transforming this 20th century French farce into a modern, edgy piece unlike any other.
The production featured all of the crucial plotlines of a chaotic comedy: mistaken identities, jealous husbands, sexual innuendos and conflicting character pursuits. Audiences roared with laughter, captivated by the talent and the stamina of Gill’s company, who breathed new life into these classical stock characters.
The play opened as Raymonde Chandebise, played by freshman musical theater major Kristen Wisneski, began to question her husband’s fidelity because of his sudden lack of sexual desire. Unbeknownst to the faithful Victor Chandebise, played by freshman musical theater major Michael Ricciardone, he is experiencing a nervous condition which prevents him from performing normally in bed.
Raymonde’s silly assumption is the catalyst for three acts of total chaos.
Raymonde, with the help of her friend, Lucienne, played by freshman musical theater major Emma Dowdy, attempted to entrap her husband with a letter from a fictitious, anonymous admirer scheduling a rendezvous at the Frisky Puss Hotel.
Audiences fed off Wisneski’s tenacity and energy throughout her performance, despite difficulties she faced in developing her character.
“The most challenging aspect of Raymonde is how multifaceted she is,” Wisneski said. “We played with Raymonde’s poised and proper nature that society of the early 1900s impressed upon her and juxtaposed that with her true inner desires regarding her devious, selfish and sexual, yet romantic self.”
The improvisation which evolved from the rehearsal process of this production helped the characters, the play and, most importantly, the actors grow.
“As a director and an acting teacher, the mistakes are the parts of talent the audience is dying to see, that deep vulnerability,” Gill said. Meanwhile, confusion persisted as Victor Chandebise received the letter, but believed it was meant for his best friend and business partner, Romain Tournel, played by senior acting major Mary Foster. Tournel, secretly pursuing Raymonde, eagerly awaited this opportunity.
An exploration of sex from a unique point of view, “A Flea in Her Ear” experimented with gender-blind casting and an emphasis on choosing “the right actors for the right roles, not worrying about gender or missing out on talented women for the sake of casting,” Gill said.
Three women, Foster as Tournel, junior acting major Jacey Schult as Dr. Finache and sophomore musical theater major Lauren Leibowitz as Rugby, took on roles originally intended for men.
Victor Chandebise also showed the letter to Lucienne’s husband Don Carlos Homenides De Histangua, played by senior acting major Arnaldo Carrasquillo. He recognized his wife’s handwriting and vowed to kill her and her lover, further adding to the urgency of the plot.
Ricciardone also played Poche, a drunken porter of the hotel who looked exactly like Victor Chandebise, which was intended by of the playwright. As Victor Chandebise followed Don Carlos to the Frisky Puss Hotel attempting to prevent his murderous rage, hotel staff, Raymonde and Tournel, and others mistake him for Poche.
“Chandebise and Poche embodied two totally different physicalities that I had to make sure were right when I entered [the stage]. This took a lot of work in the rehearsal room to figure out what these two different physicalities were,” Ricciardone explained. According to multiple audience members, they were blown away by his ability to juggle both characters, while still maintaining the integrity of each one.
In the end, the loose ends were tied: Carlos discovered a rough copy of the letter in Raymonde’s handwriting, ruling out his wife’s involvement in an affair. The hotel owner, Ferraillon, played by senior acting major Bryan Jahnke, cleared up the Chandebise and Poche confusion. Raymonde revealed to her husband the reason for her doubts and the letter she helped write to catch him in the supposed affair.
Chandebise promised to ease Raymonde’s doubts that night, and the two reconciled.
As the play resolved, audiences not only felt relief alongside the characters, but also newfound joy.
Ricciardone said, “I think we know we have done our jobs as actors if the audience leaves feeling happy and leaves with a smile. The world is so stressful nowadays, and we need a little comedy to throw the pain away.”
Similarly, Gill said, “Being able to laugh and have a sense of humor about sex and gender is a part of what I wanted the audience to take away [from this production]. The best way to have a conversation is to have humor, to avoid awkwardness and tension, and to just have fun at the end of the day — a celebration — rather than ripping hearts out.”
Published in the 4/11/18 edition.