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UBC Publications

A Flea In Her Ear Mar 9, 1988

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 Frederic Wood Theatre
In Her Ear from
\
i
University of British Columbia
locks
Frederic Wood Theatre
presents
to
A
Locke
Flea
ipHQi
InHerEar
At the Bookstore,
you may find the key
to your simplest need
or the noblest stimulation
of the mind.
by
Georges Feydeau
Directed by
Denise Coffey
March 9-19
1988
Ais BOOKSTORE
The Frederic Wood Theatre Magazine
A Seasonal Publication of University Productions Inc.
For further information regarding this
and upcoming publications call:
(604) 224-7743
6200 University Boulevard • 228-4741
Hours: Man., Tues., Thurs., Fri. 8:30 am-5:00 pm
Wednesday 8:30 am-8:30 pm   Saturday 9:30 am-5:00 pm Four Feydeau Anecdotes
Of a fellow-author, notorious alike for his flops, his loathing of his colleagues
and his disastrous married life, Feydeau said: "That fellow's no good for anything
except being cuckolded, and even there his wife has to help him out.'
Feydeau was present at a salon where one of the guests was a retired industrialist
renowned for his avarice. The talk turned to philanthropy.  'Whenever anyone
accosts me in the street and asks me for charity,' said the miser, 'I instantly put
my hands in my pocket'
'Only you don't take it out again', said Feydeau.
One evening Feydeau went to an operetta with a group of friends. The soprano
had a pretty voice but couldn't articulate the lyrics. As she sang a moving
ballad, of which not a single word was intelligible, Feydeau leaned towards his
neighbour and murmured: 'that's one woman I'd happily trust with a secret.'
Feydeau was often late in delivering manuscripts. Once, while he was sitting at
Maxim's, a taxi screamed to a halt and a theatre manager leapt out to confront
him:
'When do I get the play?'
'Whenever you like', replied Feydeau calmly.
'It's been announced for four years.'
'Be patient, my dear fellow. I'm just finishing the last interval'
^% n r
-l Tft^fc'
Georges Feydeau
1862-1921
Feydeau on Feydeau
I'm in perfect health. Don't be amazed if I am gloomy. Such is my normal
state of mind. I don't in the least resemble my plays, which people are pleased
to find diverting. I am a poor .judge of these matters. I never laugh in the theatre.
I seldom laugh in private life. I am taciturn, somewhat unsociable . . . My
plays are entirely improvised; the whole and the parts, the design and the shape
all fall into place while I am writing. And I have never made a first draft.
When I begin a play, it's as if I were locking myself up in a dungeon from
which I can't escape until I finish it. No, I'm not one of those who give birth
with joy. While planning the lunacies that will make the public laugh, I don't
enjoy myself; I keep a straight face, and the composure of a chemist dispensing a
prescription. I take a gram of complication, a gram of profligacy, and a gram of
observation, and I knead these elements together as best I can. And I foresee,
almost without fail, the effect they will produce. Farce And Feydeau
Farce is a theatrical form in which Moliere happily rubs shoulders with Ray
Cooney, Pinero with Ben Travers, Box and Cox with a scenario from commedia
and Gros-Guillaume of the Hotel de Bourgogne Company with Brian Rix of the
Whitehall Theatre. The appeal of farce is universal, yet it is curiously narrow-
minded and almost monomaniac in its exploitation of man's fears and
weaknesses. As a form which has entertained audiences for centuries, it has
obviously changed and evolved in technique as well as social content.
There are, roughly, two kinds of farce, "optimistic" and "pessimistic".
"Optimistic" farce extended from the Romans to the middle of the 19th century.
By "optimistic" I mean that despite the buffetings and vicissitudes and
consequences of chance, error, misunderstanding, greed and trickery, the view
taken of human nature is essentially benevolent, and masters in great difficulties
are eventually and deftly extricated by much cleverer servants. Such farces, or
farcical sub-plots and situations in plays we would call comedies, are humanistic
in intent and nature and operate from the vantage point of an approved system of
ethics; they affirm rather than subvert. What I want to call attention to here is
"pessimistic" farce, the farce of social and moral anarchy, of a stress on chaos
rather than order, on the anti-hero rather than the hero. Both kinds share basic
farcical techniques, but they are essentially different in their view of the world
and of the status and function of man within it. The latter kind of farce
predominates from the middle and late 19th century to the 1960s at least,
although farce as a stage form is now more or less in decline.
When one examines the comic methods of this kind of farce, one always
finds that its technique is not merely structural and mechanistic, but is also a
way of expressing a view of the human predicament. At the end of Act I of A
Flea in Her Earx Camille tries his best to stop Tournel from going to the Coq
d'Or. Tournel cannot understand a word he is saying because Camille has a cleft
palate and is entirely incomprehensible unless he puts in his mouth a new silver
roof, which is at present soaking in boracic acid on the mantelpiece. By the
time Camille reaches it and can speak clearly, Tournel is gone. At moments of
dreadful crisis in farce, characters are frequently unable to communicate with each
other, either by a device of this kind or by a rapid series of exits and entrances in
which they just miss each other, or simply by the opposite, an obsessive desire
to prevent communication at all costs. The function of Schwarz in Act II of A
Flea in Her Ear, at the centre of a maelstrom of confusion and frantic stage
action, speaking only German which nobody understands and himself
understanding nobody, is another expression of this theme and at the same time a
clever variant of a basic farcical technique. Much modern drama — Beckett and
Pinter, for example — deals with this theme of the inability or unwillingness to
communicate, of the attempts of individuals to hide in their own insecurities.
This is a theme of weight and seriousness in both drama and fiction. Farce has
extensively treated the same theme, no less serious because it is developed on a
comic level.
When Tournel in Act II jumps on the revolving bed to embrace the lovely
Raymonde but instead finds himself clasping a querulous Baptistin, we have
splendid example of one of a dramatist's, and especially a farceur's, most
powerful weapons, the denial of expectation for a character and its simultaneous
fulfillment for the audience. It is also a demonstration of one of the most
absurdist of dramatic techniques, the frustration of man by machine. Towards
the climax of the second act of A Flea in Her Ear, Homenides' deadly
marksmanship causes a serious malfunction in the revolving bed mechanism.
Until the end of the act both beds, containing a shrieking Camille and a
shrieking Baptistin, continue to revolve rapidly before the audience. Here is an
excellent demonstration of the Bcrgsonian view that as man begins to resemble a
machine so he becomes less human and increasingly an object of laughter. In
this case, and in complete harmony with the extremism of farce, man no longer
commands the machine; it commands him — indeed, Camille and Baptistin have
become a part of it, subsumed into the machinery as it spins heedlessly out of
control. This is a truly farcical position, and it is surely also a philosophical
one.
The acceleration of the revolving bed occurs at the end of Act II, when the
stage is the scene of the rigidly disciplined chaos so characteristic of Feydeau's
dramatic climaxes. Well before this characters have started to run, a certain sign
in farce of increasing pace and increasing pressure upon the individual. The
Hotel's proprietress, Olympc, is successively pushed, pulled, and knocked about
by seven characters who rapidly enter and exit, each finding her in the way.
Olympe does not have the slightest idea of what is going on or why they are
acting this way; such characters arc essential in Feydeau. After this incident the
pace grows even faster: distraught men and women, most of them pursued by a
raging Homenides with a gun, rush in and out of bedrooms and up and down the
staircase. The whole impression is that life is out of control, unmanageable,
ungovernable, beyond the power of the individual to determine it or even
influence it. The farce author's technique of compressing a great number of exits
and entrances into a very short time and directing his actors to run, shout,
scream, faint, and fire pistols is thoroughly indicative of this view of the human
condition.
It is interesting to observe that since pessimistic farce usually functions by
profaning approved moral, sexual, social, and familial codes it flourished only in
periods of stability when such codes are the received dogma of the audience. Not
surprisingly, then, the golden age of farce has been the mid- and late Victorian period in England and France of the Second Empire and Third Republic, when
one of the dominating obsessions of the elite was the fear of social exposure and
the consequent loss of reputation, and when professed public adherence to agreed
codes of conduct was very strong. Moliere's popularity in the reign of Louis XIV
and the rise to fame of Joe Orton in the relatively stable and prosperous England
of the 1960s are lesser examples of the same phenomenon. It is difficult to
succeed with farce today because there are so few ironclad moral and social taboos
to which the majority of an audience subscribes, and because we live in a period
of great political instability.
The consequences of the extreme pressure of farce upon the individual are
profound. These pressures exert themselves through a skillful combination of
comic techniques, but once again it is much more than a matter of technique:
The actual sanity and existence of the individual are at stake in a world of
accumulating disorder and disaster, a world that goes so far as to refuse to
recognise him as a person and denies his identity.
In A Flea in Her Ear the problem of identity is encountered, typically of
Feydeau, in an extreme form. It will be remembered that Poche of the staff of
the Coq d'Or is Chandebise's double. Whereas Shakespeare in The Comedy of
Errors splits identities between twins of equal rank — two masters and two
servants — Feydeau creates an identical pair of opposite social rank: Chandebise
the managing director, Poche the drunken hall porter. Chandebise is the head of
a prosperous household, catered to by respectful family members and servants;
Poche, the lowliest of servants, is regularly beaten by the hotel manager.
Feydeau does it this way, of course, to make the experience even more traumatic
for Chandebise, to make him feel that his class status, his elevated place in the
world as well as his whole personality and identity is slipping away from him in
the inexplicable breakdown of hierarchy and the brutality of events. He also does
it further to desecrate, as Eric Bentley puts it, household and family gods;
Feydeau was aggressively and relentlessly anti-familial at a time when the
bourgeois family was the official cornerstone of French society. Chandebise
soon runs up against Feraillon, the hotel manager, who assumes he is Poche,
insults him, kicks him unmercifully, pulls his hat and jacket from him, forces
him into the porter's cap and uniform, and sends him about his duties. Feraillon
then re-enters and kicks him off the stage. In contrast to Chandebise, Poche
remains calm and stolidly uncomprehending of the bit of bother around him,
while the former, by now thoroughly humiliated and terrified, is virtually
demented. The techniques of farce have seemingly destroyed him and the world
he thought he lived in. It is important that the only people amused and
entertained by this spectacle are the audience; nobody in A Flea in Her Ear or in
What The Butler Saw and many other farces, has the slightest sense of humor.
What is uproariously funny to the audience is a dreadful nightmare to the
characters.
Farce is anything but an escapist art. Rather, the best farce, like Feydeau's or
Orton's, takes man into the heart of a malicious, cruel, and absurdist universe
which everywhere conspires against him and which he is utterly powerless to
direct. In the hands of the masters farce is the bleakest of all dramatic genres,
since it offers neither the redemptive power of tragedy nor the love and human
sympathy of comedy. Nobody ever sympathised with an Orton character or a
Feydeau character. Farce is of course a remarkable paradox. The darkness of its
world, the emptiness it sees at the heart of the human condition, are conveyed to
its audience by marvelous comic techniques which are not only superbly
entertaining and laughter-provoking but are also entirely expressive of the nature
of that condition and the content and viewpoint of farce itself.
Michael R.Booth
University of Victoria
Professor Michael R. Booth is Head of the Department of Theatre at the
University of Victoria. He is a specialist in Farce and Melodrama, and has
written extensively on 19th Century theatre. A Flea In Her Ear
by
Georges Feydeau
Translated by John Mortimer
Set Design by
Robert Gardiner
Directed by Denise Coffey
Costume Design by
Mara Gottler
CAST
(in order of appearance)
Lighting Design by
Robert Hamilton
Camille Chandebise    Lawrence Kagan
Antoinette Plucheux Kim Godin
Etienne Plucheux Jason Smith
Dr. Finache Dennis James Kuss
Lucienne Homenides de Histangua Laura Di Cicco
Raymondc Chandebise Tracy Holmes
Victor Emmanuel Chandebise Timothy Hyland
Romain Tournel John Murphy
Carlos Homenides de Histangua  Thomas Conlin Jones
Eugenie Debbie Witzel
Augustin Feraillon    Neil Ingram
Olympe Janine Payne
Baptistin   James Binkley
Herr Schwarz Michael Cavers
Poche Monty L. Hathidy
Hotel Guests   Alexandra Apostolidis, Rhiannon A. Charles,
Nick Davis, Harley Harris,
Thrasso Petras, J. Cricket Price
Le Hot Jazz Pctomaniac Alan Brodie, Randall Plitt, John Rule,
Risha Walden, Dave Weih
Monseiur Rene Ordure  Bruce Dow
The action takes place in Paris at the turn of the century.
Act I
Act II
Act III
The drawing-room at the Chandebises'
house in the Boulevard Maleshcrbes,
Paris
The Hotel Coq d'Or in Montrctout
The Chandebises' drawing-room
PRODUCTION
There will be two 10 minute intermissions.
Technical Director  Ian Pratt
Properties Sherry Milne
Costume Supervisor    Chelsea Moore
Set Construction   Alan Brodie, Roland Dyton, Don Griffiths,
John Henrickson, Robert Moscr, Robert Walker
Seamstresses Jean Driscoll-Bcll, Leslie While
First Hands Lori Kenny, Gefcrina Ofreneo
Wigs    Terry Kuzyk
Head Painter Stewart Fairley
Stage Manager Elana Honcharuk
Assistant Stage Managers    Erin Jarvis, Nick von Schulmann
Wardrobe Mistress Blanka Jurcnka
Scene Design Assistants Heather Kent, J. Cricket Price
Costume Design Assistants Jill Buckham, Cathy Golf,
Heather Kent, Catherine King, Blanka Jurcnka
Properties Assistants Melody Anderson, Nancy Lyons
Scene Painters    Kairiin Bright, Elana Honcharuk,
Natasha Lyndon, Catherine King, Gary Muir
Make up Nick Davis, Cynthia Johnston
Production Intern     Aileen Wong
Lighting Operator Peter Jardine
Assistant Director/Musical Director Bruce Dow
Box Office Carol Fisher, Timothy Hyland, Linda McRae
House Manager Bryson Young
Business Manager Marjorie Fordham
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Debra and Kyla Gardiner
Darryll Patterson
Risha Walden
CBC
Rodolfo Bermejo
UBC Gates Hair Fashions A Note from the Translator
Farce is tragedy played at about a hundred and twenty revolutions a minute.
The story of "Othello" and the plot of Feydeau's "Puce a l'Oreille" have a
striking similarity. Desdemona's lost handkerchief and Victor Emmanuel
Chandebise's missing braces both give rise to similar misunderstandings,
undeserved jealousies and accumulating catastrophe. Othello's mistake is the
stuff of tragedy. Madame Chandebise's leads to events which move so quickly
that we are left helpless with laughter and nobody dies.
What is at stake for the characters in Feydeau's farces in not their lives but
their reputations. Feydeau's men are solid, bourgeois, and middle-aged. His
women, as he said, "breathe virtue and are forthwith out of breath." Social
conventions are essential to farce. No one could write a successful farce about the
misadventures of a set of Swedish teenagers in and out of the Jacuzzi. The put-
upon hero in a Feydeau play finds that the path of true love leads to immediate
panic, as when his braces get borrowed and lost. It is the terror of losing their
precious reputations which makes Feydeau's characters hide, lie and pretend to be
each other. The advent of the permissive society, were it ever to come about,
would make the continuance of farce writing impossible.
Happily, the permissive society has not taken over Canada, so no doubt you
can recognize the panic of Chandebise, the fury of Raymonde and Camille's
innocent search for pleasure. We are all likely to be involved in farce in our
lives, what keeps us clear of such events is either lack of daring or astonishing
luck.
I translated this play some twenty years ago. Jacques Charon, a wonderful
fat, light-footed actor from the Comedic Francaise taught me about farce when he
directed it at the National Theatre in London. I am sure that Denise Coffey and
her cast will give you as much pleasure as we all got out of the play then.
The Second Act contains the best prop ever invented by an ingenious
playwright. Watch it carefully.
John Mortimer
(London, 1988)
John Mortimer's works include Clinging to the Wreckage, In Character,
Paradise postponed, Rumpole of the Bailey.
These programme notes were specifically written for the production at the
Frederic Wood Theatre.
A Note from the Director
John Mortimer's version of the play is created with the aim of making you
in the audience forget that you're listening to a translation and believe that you
have a perfect understanding of idiomatic French and the slang of the 'Belle
Epoque'. Immersion through laughter. If I were to direct the play in Britain, the
accents and attitudes would be local; here in the Theatre du Freddy du Bois de
Boulogne, the voices are Canadian.
Denise Coffey
The Director: Denise Coffey
Denise Coffey is well known in the U.K. as performer in television and
radio, as actress in films (Far from the Madding Crowd; Another Time, Another
Place), as director, stage actress, and writer at the Young Vic in London for
thirteen years. She translated and co-adapted Moliere's Le Bourgeois
Gentilhomme, titled A Wee Touch of Class, the highly acclaimed success of the
Edinburgh Festival 1985/6.
She has worked in Paris (at the studios in Joinville) in the film Start the
Revolution Without Me and co-translated the hit-farce Le Pere Noel est une
Ordure, created by the famous Paris Group "Les Bronzes".
Over the last six years she has been an Associate Director of the Shaw
Festival, and there has directed plays by Shaw and Coward. She has worked at
ATP in Calgary as director for The Beggar's Opry and When that I was... by
John Mortimer. Presently she is commissioned by ATP to write the libretto for
the chamber opera C.3.3., with music by Alan Rae. Before returning to the
U.K. in May, she will direct Major Barbara for the New American Shaw Festival
in Milwaukee. In the U.K. she will begin work on the production of a play
hidden for centuries, believed to be written by William Shakespeare and William
Rowley. Her first novel is with a publisher in London, and her latest screenplay
is under discussion in Los Angeles. Ms »r\ p«_ vv aM C -V
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U'rtfc. obvKJui StacbzLUaab On Rendering "A Flea in Her Ear"
The idea of using animal allusions in A Flea in Her Ear came quite naturally
for me from within the play's own skeletal structure. The major internal clue
centred on the reason why many of the Hotel Coq d'Or clients were foreigners:
they had come to see an exhibit of the French expressionistic painters in the
Paris Salon of 1905. The sensation which this exhibit caused led one critic to
term the artists "fauves", or wild beasts. And it is precisely this menagerie
environment that I wished to suggest in rendering the costumes: the veneer of a
sophisticated French society acting as a thin fabric, barely covering the more
bestial man. (It is interesting to note that Freud's psychoanalytic theories were
being formulated at this same time.)
Because the principal thrust behind this farce had to come from the actions
within the play and not from the look of the play, the animal allusions were
sublimated. What one sees at first glance looking at A Flea In Her Ear is a 1905
fashion silhouette; what is evident on closer examination are the hints of the
animalistic extensions of each character: Carlos Homenides storms through life
as well as hotels like a raging bull; the snaky Dr. Finache insinuates himself
easily into many situations; Romain Tournel struts like a colourful, boasting
rooster guarding his henyard; Antoinette demonstrates the same frenetic energy as
a spoiled poodle; and Lucienne Homenides wafts in and out of the scenes like a
delicate dove. The rest of the characters I will leave, however, for the audience to
decipher.. .
Mara Gottler
■Xp-ft%",_
The Bachelor of Fine Arts
Theatre Programme at UBC
Design and Technical Theatre
For a couple of years now the Department of Theatre at UBC has been
offering a BFA programme in Design and Technical Theatre. The programme
normally begins in the student's second year and takes three years to complete.
The curriculum is carefully balanced in order to secure an integration of academic
and practical work. While students are expected to crew shows during their first
year in the programme, they will be specializing for more intensive training in
the areas of interest as they complete their degree. Systematic coursework is
offered in construction, scenic art, stage lighting, properties, stage management,
and design.
Admission to the programme is based on a personal interview with members
of the Design/Tech Faculty. A portfolio and letter of intent may in some cases
substitute for the interview.
Acting
The BFA Acting students are a select group enrolled in a 3 year training
program with a professional emphasis. To be admitted into the BFA, students
must have completed a preliminary year of post-secondary theatre studies.
Acceptance, through a successful audition, is given to a maximum of 12
students each year chosen from a group of more than 50 applicants from across
Canada.
Our students spend 15 hours each week in acting classes where they train in
voice, movement, the rehearsal process, period styles, mask, combat, dance,
singing, dialects, and the special needs of film, T.V., and radio performance.
In addition to their demanding class and performance
schedules, BFA acting students are expected to maintain high standards in their
academic courses which include Theatre History and non-theatre electives.
Performing on the stage of the Frederic Wood Theatre is of immense value to
our BFA students, for here they can gain a practical knowledge of their
developing acting skills which can be applied to a career in the theatre. As our
audience, you play an essential part in the training and education of our students
for which we thank you, and trust that we will continue to entertain you
sufficiendy that you will return again and again.
For further information please contact the Department's Main Office in the
Frederic Wood Theatre. You are cordially invited to
The Frederic Wood Theatre
1988-89 Season
Just Between Ourselves
By Alan Ayckbourn
Directed By
Roy Surette
Jacques And His Master
By Milan Kundera
Directed By Charles Siegel
Yerma
By Federico Lorca
Directed By Catherine Caines
Henry IV, Part 1
By William Shakespeare
Directed By Rod Menzies
Two Further plays,
directed by Senior MFA students,
will be added to the season
For Further Information please call
228-2678
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