Kathryn Meisle and Mark Harelik
in A Flea in Her Ear
(© Andy Tew)
Kathryn Meisle and Mark Harelik
in A Flea in Her Ear
(© Andy Tew)
The doors slam with regularity, as they should, in John Rando's revival of Georges Feydeau's classic farce A Flea In Her Ear, now at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, but the laughs come far more intermittently. With a little more time, the star-studded cast may soon master the clockwork precision needed for this genre -- and the doors on Alexander Dodge's clever sets may actually stay shut. But lack of time aside, David Ives' excessively jokey translation and Rando's only intermittently inspired direction are the major reasons this three-act, nearly three-hour comedy too often drags.

The set up -- and payoff -- are practically the blueprint for farce. Raymonde Chandebise (Kathryn Meisle) suspects her mild-mannered, extremely bourgeois husband Victor (Mark Harelik) of cheating -- in part because of a recent bout of impotence and in part because of the delivery of his suspenders from a notorious hotel, here called the Frisky Puss. So she sets to entrap him with the help of best friend Lucienne (Mia Barron), but her best laid plans go seriously awry.

Eventually, not only are the trio to be found in the brothel-like hotel, but so are a host of others, including Victor's best friend and Raymonde's wannabe paramour Roman Tournel (Tom Hewitt), Lucienne's jealous, gun-toting Spanish husband Don Carlos (David Pittu), Victor's speech-impaired nephew Camille (Carson Elrod), and crazy family doctor Finache (Brooks Ashmanskas) -- not to mention Victor's doppelganger Poche (Harelik), the hotel's alcoholic bellboy. After much more door slamming, mistaken identity, and almost-copulations, they all end up back chez Chandebise for more shenanigans and a happy-ending denouement.

As he did in Is He Dead, Ives too often goes for the quick, cheap laugh at the expense of the play's larger whole, and Rando throws in an unnecessary bit or two (including a totally unnecessary homage to a certain musical at the curtain call). More problematic, as is so often the case with this kind of enterprise, the cast doesn't always seem to be in the same play stylistically -- nor do they seem to be in the same country, with some of the players appearing far too American or straining to appear European.

Still, there are performances to be relished. Pittu, who has perfected the art of taking a stereotype to the nth degree for maximum laughs; the elegant yet funny Meisle, who has previously shown her expertise at grounding French farce; and Elrod, who does infinitely more than expected with a character whose major characteristic is his inability to pronounce consonants (and who graciously if gratuitously bares his butt towards the show's end). Harelik nicely delineates Victor from Poche, but one keeps thinking he might do better as the pompous Tournel (a role Hewitt does surprisingly little with). Barron scores in many of her scenes, including one impressive tongue-twisting exercise, and Geoffrey Murphy and MacIntrye Dixon do very fine work as a hotel guest and employee, respectively.

Conversely, Ashmanskas, who was the highlight of such Broadway shows as The Ritz and Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, pushes way too hard and often seems to be channeling Nathan Lane rather than choosing an organic characterization, while such other reliable players as Tom McGowan and Debra Jo Rupp (as the hotel's proprietors) barely register.

Those audience members seeking nothing more than undemanding summer fare will undoubtedly find much to like about Flea, but those with higher standards will frankly be bugged by a production that should work better than this one does.