French Farce @ Rose Hulman Drama Club

A Flea in Her Ear, illustration by Downtown Tabby A Flea in Her Ear, illustration by Downtown Tabby

Mon dieu! The Rose Hulman Drama Club (RDC) has undertaken the challenging task of producing a French farce. Is there some way this could this expressed in mathematical terms?

Let Engineering Students = Analytical Thought X Studious Nerds.

while French farce = Chaotic plot + Libidinous Bon Vivants.

To get to the end result of Engineering students = French farce we would have to… Oh, never mind! We are already in over our heads. Those same heads we laughed off at the opening night of Georges Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear.

According to Dr. Terence Hartnett, Artistic Director of the RDC, “What endears the play to audiences is the joyful and exuberant humor. The play is extremely funny. There is everything from sophisticated language play to slapstick in Flea.”

Funny play + funny actors + funny actions = Fun, Fun, FUN!!!

Maybe we can’t do the math, but we know the process of creating this successful formula definitely involved Hartnett. He makes it sound pretty darn simple.

“Creative thinking, intelligence, innovation, work ethic, time management are all crucial attributes for both an engineer and an actor,” Hartnett explained. “We have extraordinarily talented actors here at Rose. Perhaps more importantly, we have actors who want to learn and work hard.”

The effort Hartnett describes here obviously paid off in Friday’s performance. Opening night is harder for comedy than for drama because the cast has to adjust the timing of line delivery to account for audience laughter. For A Flea in Her Ear physical timing is also central, as there are multiple quick entrances and exits; doors almost become a supporting character.

Interviewed a few days before the opening, Hartnett expressed confidence his cast would get this aspect right.

“The cast has been working very diligently on the comic timing,” he said. “The actors have been aware of this challenge since the very first rehearsal.”

Although he takes himself out of the equation, no doubt Hartnett’s skill as a director had a lot to do with how the actors rose to meet this challenge. We had seen a professional production of A Flea in Her Ear several years ago in Chicago. Naturally, we expected we’d give an amateur cast and crew a kind of handicap when it came to comparing the productions. However, they didn’t need one. The Chicago production had used a 1960’s setting, and we liked the way the Swingin’ Sixties connection worked. The RDC chose to stay with the milieu in which the play was written. This allowed for the opportunity to reveal undergarments circa 1907 – ooh la la!

We don’t want to reveal too much about the funny bits, but if the Computer Science stuff doesn’t work out for Chad Jones (Tournel), he might consider the Chippendales as an alternative career. Matt Fletchner (Etienne) manages a clenched jawed stoicism that will certainly serve him well in many contexts as he moves up the career ladder, Ryan Seale (Chandebise/Poche) might show clips from the performance if he needs proof in an interview that he is flexible, and Monya Wolf (Lucienne) should keep track of her expressions for haughty incredulity to use when dealing with contract bids in the future.

Engineering Physics sounds like a major that would lead to copious weeping, but it seems Scott Blankenbaker (Homedides De Histangua) has instead developed a wonderfully maniacal laugh. Noting that James Kwak (Rugby) is an active member of the RH Cheer Program, we wondered who recruited a soccer hooligan for that.

There’s also serendipity in Nick Heshelman (Camille) being ready to embark on a career in Biomedical Engineering. Did he design his own palate? We forgot to ask, but we did find out the trick to his dialect is keeping his tongue “upside down.”

Whoa, we’ve already singled out half the cast – suffice to say that every one of them has a least one really funny bit. So thanks for the laughs also go to Alia Robinson (Raymonde), Sarah Eberhardt (Antoinette), Devon Fletcher (Ferallion), Emily Barker (Olympia), Peter Savkovich (Dr, Finache), Marlo Niverson (Eugenie), Andrzej Ciepiela (Baptiste).

Just in case hilarity is not reason enough for you to go to a play, we asked Dr. Hartnett to explain the title and provide his own synopsis.

“Well, the title is the French version of something like “A Bee in Her Bonnet,” which means to be preoccupied or obsessed with an idea,” he explained. “Raymonde becomes preoccupied with the notion that her husband is having an affair. There is an almost geometric beauty to the play’s plot structure, but it never seems mechanical. All the characters are pursuing their goals and chasing their desires in a fast-paced and hilarious romp through the garden of love and relationships. A Flea in Her Ear is a comic masterpiece.”

The only fly in the ointment regarding A Flea in Her Ear is that we haven’t seen enough publicity. There’s a nicely done poster, but we saw it only in the lobby of Hatfield Hall. We’ve heard no announcement on WFYI or WFIU, both of which include Terre Haute arts events on their calendar. The hard work Rose Hulman students have put into this production should be rewarded with a packed house. There are two more performances, so help make that happen.

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