In belle epoque Paris, Georges Feydeau, master craftsman of farces, spent night after night at the fashionable restaurant Maxim's, observing the exaggerated conviviality and ambiguous morality on display there.
A lifelong member of this leisured society, Feydeau was well versed in its foibles. In Glendale, A Noise Within's riotous rendition of the 1907 play "A Flea in Her Ear" provides a too-rare opportunity to be entertained by this rascally writer, who created such mirth from the human propensities for vanity, frivolity and libidinousness.
The title is a colorful reference to a notion that hooks itself into the mind and refuses to be dislodged. In this case, the wife of a well-to-do Paris businessman happens upon what she believes to be evidence of adultery and becomes obsessed with catching her husband in the act.
Edging toward an affair of her own, Yvonne Chandel (Dorothea Harahan, savoring the melodrama) ignores the hypocrisy of her sudden outrage and asks her best friend, Lucienne (Jill Hill, wily and winning), to help hatch a plot. "I know a little trick that I saw used in a play," Lucienne says in Barnett Shaw's delicious English translation. "It's not what you would call brilliant. But with a man," she adds, impugning the intelligence of men everywhere, "it might work."
Their scheme, of course, does not go as planned, and soon they and the husband (Stephen Weingartner) -- along with Yvonne's would-be lover (J. Todd Adams) and Lucienne's jealous, gun-toting husband (Richard Soto) -- are headed toward a day of reckoning.
Dense with details and zipping along at an ever-accelerating pace, the story feels as though it could fly apart at any moment. With near-perfect calibration, directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez Elliott rev the action to within a hairbreadth of chaos.
A shift of scene from the Chandels' home to a hotel of ill repute introduces an innkeeper who, as played by Michael Manuel, can't seem to keep latent psychosexual tendencies from bursting through his stern military facade. When Soto's jealous husband, a Spanish don, bursts into the place, he is transformed by rage into a Mafia don -- eyes blazing, gun blasting.
Portraying a cousin in the Chandel family, Louis Lotorto isn't as innocent as he looks. But as the situation deteriorates, he can only watch in horror, his faulty language skills (the character struggles with a speech impediment) dissolving into wordless yowls of frustration.
Some aspects of the production -- mostly noticeable in Kristina Lenss' costumes and Alana Schmidt's set -- seem more Raymond Chandler '30s than Feydeau '00s, which goes unexplained.
No matter. The fun transcends time. Indeed, the grinning, hugging, air-kissing population of Los Angeles -- behaving as though cameras are always rolling -- should easily recognize its equal in glittering turn-of-the-century France.
'A Flea in Her Ear'
Where: A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale
When: 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 28; 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Nov. 19, 26, 27 and Dec. 1;
2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 20. In repertory with "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "The Homecoming."
Ends: Dec. 1
Price: $20 to $40
Contact: (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1
Running time: 2 hours,