- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The choice between sitting through nearly three hours of farce or dental work is simple: gum surgery, with rusty, unsterilized implements.

When you watch most French or English farce, you can see the comedic underpinnings and the potential for silliness, but usually you’re not splitting a gut … especially all the way through. Laughter runs rich and true throughout Constellation Theatre Company’s frisky production of “A Flea in Her Ear.” Some of the credit goes to David Ives’ fresh updating of Georges Feydeau’s 1907 farce, but it largely belongs to the exuberant comic ingenuity of the cast.

It certainly isn’t the plot, which probably was first jotted down in cuneiform. Wealthy sophisticate Raymonde Chandebise (Katie Atkinson) fears her husband Victor (Michael Glenn), a stodgy insurance executive, may be straying because his “le stylo” is not as reliable as it used to be. Her friend Lucienne Homenides De Histangua (Heather Haney), the wife of an oversexed Spanish gaucho named Don Carlos (John Tweel), hatches a “fail-proof” plan involving an anonymous perfumed love letter and a promise to rendezvous in a no-tell hotel.

Just about the entire population of the district turns up at the Frisky Puss Hotel, which is presided over by fools for love Ferraillon (Frank Britton) and his wife, Olympia (Charlotte Akin) — formerly known as “Butter Bottom” in her previous life as an entertainer. Those taking a tumble on the Frisky Puss’ revolving beds include two jealous husbands, a boozer bellboy, a brawling Brit, two French maids, a gigolo, a lusty doctor and a hapless male ingenue.

Director Allison Arkell Stockman has moved the action to Jazz Age Paris, which makes the show racier and sleeker (no bustles or bloomers or powdered wigs, thank heavens) and also sets the physical comedy in the silent era of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. The cast responds with raucous, dancelike comedic bits, and Mr. Glenn is particularly inspired playing dual roles with lightning-fast costume changes as the stuffy husband and the tippling bellboy.

Much of the hilarity has to do with language and misunderstandings. Mr. Tweel, with his growly macho hampered somewhat by a sibilant “s,” is a Castilian cutup as Don Carlo, someone both elegant and ridiculous. The Silly Putty-boned Matt McGloin’s character Camille is saddled with the malady of not being able to say consonants, and you don’t know what’s funnier - that you can’t understand a word he’s saying or when he starts to make sense.

Joe Brack’s waggling brows and google-eyed double-takes bring smarmy sparkle to the role of the gigolo. Yet aside from Miss Haney’s savvy socialite and Gwen Grastorf’s sexy Charleston in the second act, the other women often show the strain of trying to pull off fluffy comedy.

Still, Constellation Theatre Company’s frisky production of “Flea” could make a believer out of this booer of buffoonery. Miss Stockman has - miracle of miracles - actually made farce funny.

RATING: ***

WHAT: “A Flea in Her Ear” by David Ives

WHERE: Constellation Theatre at Source Theater, 1835 14th St. NW

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through Nov. 8.

TICKETS: $15 to $25

PHONE: 202/204-7741

WEB SITE: www.ConstellationTheatre.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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