Pulse Theatre‘s production of A Flea in Her Ear, playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival, opens with a dominatrix cracking a whip on a submissive man dressed as a tiger. This is a strange image to experience at the beginning of a production, but I later realized that A Flea in Her Ear wears its strangeness as a badge of honour. The play combines overt sexuality, snazzy 70s fashion, and absurdist comedy to create a production that is colourful, energetic, and undeniably sexy.
I actually borrowed the “energetic” part from a woman who sat next to me. We hadn’t talked before the show at all. Afterwards, she turned towards me and asked for my opinion. I was at a loss and gave a standard “I enjoyed it” response. The truth is that A Flea in Her Ear is a bit of a mixed bag. There were many aspects to discuss. Then, I asked the woman about her thoughts, and she said, “I thought it was energetic.”
That word stuck to me. It was the perfect word to encapsulate my overall impression of A Flea in Her Ear. Energetic.
Stylistically, I thought the A Flea in Her Ear was beautiful to look at. The costuming, which featured bright button-up shirts, ascots, and print dresses, was wonderfully 70s and made me reminisce about the later seasons of Mad Men. The set design complimented the play really well, and each time there was a set change, it was framed around a fun dance number where the actors basically rearranged the set pieces by dancing. I’m a sucker for dance numbers so I enjoyed that immensely.
The cast had wonderful chemistry, which I think is especially important in a sex comedy. Out of all the performances, I would single out A’mar Wharton-Matthew’s hilarious non-verbal performance as Camille, the man dressed as a tiger, as well as Mladen Obradović’s performances as Monsieur Chandebise and Poche. I am always amazed when a single actor can play multiple characters so well and distinctively.
I did need to ask myself how much I liked the story, which was originally written by Georges Feydeau in 1907. To answer that: I didn’t. I found that too many characters were underutilized, the plot threads got complicated, and the is-this-Monsieur-Chandebise-or-Poche? bit was overplayed. Additionally, I found that I couldn’t connect to any of the characters very well, though this might be the function of the play as the characters were intentionally more like caricatures.
But is good production value, costuming, acting, and music enough to make an unsatisfying story enjoyable on the stage? Yes and no. All of these factors definitely elevated my enjoyment of A Flea in Her Ear, but not enough to make me forget the flaws of its source material.
That’s not to say that the production itself doesn’t have faults. While I enjoyed the setting of the 1970s, an era of key parties, floral dresses, and good pop music, I feel that A Flea in Her Ear doesn’t hold up well as a 2017 adaptation. Since the play is so progressive in its celebration of overt sexuality, it is hard to ignore that it does not represent any characters on the queer spectrum. This made me feel left out as a gay man.
Maybe back in the day A Flea in Her Ear was revolutionary, but I’ve seen so many pieces of art that unapologetically celebrate heterosexual relationships and sexuality that it would have been refreshing to see some more queer representation.
Still, A Flea in Her Ear was entertaining and definitely shined best in its set design, costuming, and performance.
- A Flea in Her Ear plays at the Factory Mainspace. (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Fringe Club at Scadding Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Content Warnings: Sexual Content, Smoking, Nudity, Mature Language.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route.
- Thursday July 6th, 06:30 pm
- Saturday July 8th, 01:45 pm
- Monday July 10th, 01:00 pm
- Wednesday July 12th, 03:30 pm
- Thursday July 13th, 08:45 pm
- Saturday July 15th, 11:00 pm
- Sunday July 16th, 07:00 pm
Photo of the cast of A Flea in Her Ear by Derrick Chow