Critic's Choice

Maintaining the lighter-than-air souffle of farce at A Noise Within

Farce is a tricky thing to sustain, especially sex farce. Too much lewdness risks vulgarity, over-restraint loses the fizz.

No such issues afflict “A Flea in Her Ear” at A Noise Within. In its Southern California regional premiere, playwright David Ives’ wittily risqué 1950s update of Georges Feydeau’s farcical classic, the grand-père of them all, strikes precisely the right notes.

One could get vertigo recounting “Flea’s” plot, which concerns Raymonde, a well-heeled Parisian matron who suspects husband Victor Emmanuel of an affair. (His actual problem is why Viagra was invented, but we digress.)

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She and convent-school friend Lucienne hatch a scheme to catch her straying spouse at the Frisky Puss, a louche hotel notorious for extramarital hanky-panky. From there, you’re on your own.

Ives’ translation is delightfully anachronistic yet honors the original, like an “I Love Lucy” episode rethought by Claude Chabrol. Director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott maintains narrative clarity — no mean feat — and a deft balance between insouciance and lunacy.

Her designers exhibit droll panache. Fred Kinney’s set shifts from moderne spareness to Belle Époque glitz and back. Tom Ruzika’s lighting and Robert Oriol’s compositions have a ditzy charm, and Angela Calin’s New Look-meets-nutbar wardrobe is worth admission.

So is the cast. Elyse Mirto has a stylish field day as Raymonde, while Geoff Elliott goes for dual-role broke as hapless Victor Emmanuel and Poche, his dim-bulb lookalike.

Jill Hill devours Lucienne, uproarious against outré Luis Fernandez-Gil as her trigger-happy Spanish mate. Jonathan Bray’s suave would-be seducer and Joshua Wolf Goldman’s pragmatic doctor underplay with expertise.

Jeremy Rabb, Alan Blumenfeld, Rafael Goldsten, Alison Elliott, Renna Nightingale, E.K. Dagenfield, Megan Lennon and the priceless Mitchell Edmonds keep this delicious souffle airborne.

“Flea” is hardly deep, let alone PC, but, mon Dieu, is it ever a riotous romp.

“A Flea in Her Ear,” A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena. Runs in repertory; see website for schedule. Ends Nov. 22. $44 and up. (626) 356-3100, Ext. 1, or www.anoisewithin.org. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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