This frenzied and hilarious comedy relies on the razor-sharp characterizations of a top-rate cast and the crisp direction of MacDonald (who also plays the libidinous doctor, Finache).
The play was written in 1907, at the height of La Belle Epoque, a period that ended with World War I, in which life was peaceful and the arts flourished. The current production was translated from the French by Barnett Shaw.
The story, told in three acts, is set in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, when Raymonde, wife of Victor Emmanuel (Analise Langford Clark) begins to suspect her husband may be getting a little romance on the side, since their previously active and apparently quite satisfying love life has suddenly come to a screeching halt. (This suspicion is the “flea in her ear.”)
(As an aside, I will mention that the printed program for this production is extremely frustrating. Actors aren’t listed in order of appearance, or alphabetically or, it seems, even in order of importance. Most characters are not called by name by the other characters, and when you have a character named “Raymonde” who turns out to be a girl, and a character named “Camille,” who is a boy, your head can go spinning. (They say you can’t tell the players without a program, but in this production, I had difficulty telling the players even with a program!)
But I digress. Back to the show. Raymonde confides in her best friend, Lucienne (Kirsten Myers), who suggests that her friend play a little trick on her husband to see if her fears are confirmed. She suggests that Raymonde send him an anonymous letter from a secret admirer, offering to meet him at the local seedy hotel, Le Coq D’or (“door,” not “di-or,” as some in the cast insist on calling it) for a little rendezvous.
Raymonde likes the idea, but knows that her husband will recognize her handwriting, so Lucienne writes the letter for her. As Lucienne is married to a hot-tempered and passionate Spaniard, Don Carlos Homenides de Histingua (Gabe Avila), we can see what is coming when all of the mixups occur in Act 2.
Standouts in this production include Steve McKay as Victor Emmanuel and, later, his doppelganger, the Coq D’Or bellhop Pochel. His transformations — which involve both quick costume changes and personality changes from the prim and proper Victor to the laconic and confused Poche and back again — are wonderful.
Another outstanding performance is by Brent Randolph as Camille Chandebise, Victor’s nephew who suffers from a speech impediment leaving him unable to pronounce consonants. I don’t know how long it took Randolph to perfect the impediment, but he does it eloquently, broadly and impeccably, giving long speeches that are all but unintelligible until he is given a little instrument to insert in his mouth to correct it. When he loses it later, in mid-harangue, and immediately switches back to his old impediment, it’s brilliant.
McDonald himself, always wonderful, does not disappoint in this role. The women, Clark and Myers, carry most of the first scene and are prim and proper and somewhat soft-spoken so one had to strain to understand them. There was none of that problem with MacDonald, who confidently strode in the door and took over the stage, and we could all heave a sigh of relief knowing we were in excellent hands.
Gil Sebastian plays Victor’s best friend Romain Tournel, smitten with Raymonde and delighted when she turns up at Le Coq D’or, thinking she is finally going to give in to his amorous advances.
Avila, costumed in the bright red and yellow of a Spanish soldier about to do battle and wielding a long sword, is in stark contrast, both visually and temperamentally, to the rest of the cast. He makes the most of the chance to be outrageous.
Tim Gaffaney is Ferallon, the manager of Le Coq D’or, who spends most of the second act kicking Victor/Poche in the backside.
The meat of the show occurs in Act 2, which is reminiscent of the second act of “Noises Off,” with so many coming and going, so many things going wrong, and so many misunderstandings, so many doors. It will leave the audience breathless with laughter, especially the diversion while the set crew changes back to the first-act set in the brief stay-in-your-seat second intermission.
So when all the world is a hopeless jumble and the raindrops tumble all around, leave your troubles outside and come to the Woodland Opera House for a good two hours of fun and laughter.