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Theater Review

This 'Flea' Delivers a Stylish Bite at Stages

Director, a dexterous cast and innovative staging mine buried treasures in farce.

July 26, 2001|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

From its opening image of an adulterous chambermaid in contorted coupling with her employer's nephew, an inventive Stages Theatre Center revival of George Feydeau's 1907 romp "A Flea in Her Ear" impresses with its stylish staging as well as the physical dexterity of its cast.

Looping the polished conventions of French farce full circle to their commedia dell'arte roots, Brazilian director Gulu Monteiro employs highly physical character interpretation, alternating outdoor and indoor performance spaces, and minimal props to pare the piece down to its performance essentials.

In the process, he mines edgy buried treasures from Feydeau's elegantly contrived tale of infidelity, lust and mistaken identity.

Each actor performs at least two roles--one of the aristocratic principals, and another from the serving class.

In a wry implicit comment on the latter characters' lesser substantiality, they're differentiated with masks created by the performers.

Predictable antics ensue when a suspicious wife (Clara Beller) sets a trap for her husband (Albie Selznick), using her comely friend (Ann Michele Fitzgerald) as bait.

Herb Mendelsohn, Jamie Donovan and Jay Ferguson supply the plot-complicating ingredients. Charles Fathy demonstrates particular range as a timid, cuckolded valet and a hot-tempered Spaniard out to avenge his wife's betrayal.

Monteiro sets the play's domestic scenes in the Stages' rear outdoor amphitheater, then moves to the narrow inside theater when the locale shifts to a hotel of ill repute.

At the reviewed performance, electrical problems in the latter space had little apparent impact on the capable cast--an unintended validation of the minimal staging approach.

*

"A Flea in Her Ear," Stages Theatre Center, 1540 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Sept. 2. $20. (323) 465-1010. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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