British dramatist and famous Feydeau translator John Mortimer aptly defined farce as “tragedy played at about 120 revolutions a minute.” In other words, its success is all in the timing, a notion that American playwright and new Feydeau adaptor David Ives is surely familiar with but that seems to have eluded director Gary Griffin and his erratically paced, sometimes ponderous and not nearly funny enough production for the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre of “A Flea in Her Ear,” Georges Feydeau’s quintessential early twentieth-century French farce. At its most barebones the plot—not that it really matters since actions speak louder than words in Feydeau—concerns one monsieur Chandebise, his sudden impotence and wife Raymonde’s interpretation of this as a sure sign of infidelity. Of course, this is merely a pretext for the chaos that ensues propelled by slamming doors, revolving beds and the frolics of would-be fornicators in flagrante delicto. That’s certainly all here, as well as some very funny scenery-chewing comic turns by a strong supporting cast, but ultimately this limp production provokes more giggles than guffaws and ensures that the rarely revived exotic bird known as the French farce will remain on the theatrical endangered-species list. At least the delightfully tacky set and costume designs atone somewhat for the production’s lack of momentum—visualize a poor man’s Moulin Rouge for the second act’s major setting (the “Frisky Puss Hotel”) dipped in pastels and populated by Bette Midler’s coquettish harlots and you get the picture. Nevertheless, like the embarrassing predicament suffered by poor monsieur Chandebise, the comedy in this production just never rises to the occasion. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Avenue, (312)595-5600. Tue 7:30pm/Wed 1pm & 7:30/Thu 7:30pm/Sat 4pm & 8:30pm/Sun 3pm. $48-$65. Through April 23.