A perfumed letter and a pair of borrowed suspenders send a cast of quirky characters into a tizzy — and running down the halls of Paris’ most infamous love hotel. Chaos and comedy abound in “A Flea in Her Ear,” Georges Feydeau’s beloved farce which opens at the UH School of Theatre & Dance on February 22.
We talked to Shannon Uphold, a first-year graduate student who plays the charmingly lewd cook Antoinette, and second-year graduate student Adam Zarowski, who is tackling the challenge of playing two characters who are constantly confused for one another throughout the play.
Learn more about how they get into character, what the training program at UH is like and why you should come see “A Flea in Her Ear” in our Q&A below!
Tell me a little more about the characters you’re playing.
AZ: I’m playing Victor Chandebise, a banker and generally upstanding citizen, and Poche, the hall porter at the Hotel Coq d’Or whose sweet, but drunk a lot of the time. Victor’s wife, Raymonde, is the one who gets “a flea in her ear” when she gets suspicious that he might be cheating on her.
SU: Antoinette is the cook for the Chandebises. She’s the comedic sexual relief — when the show opens, she’s throwing herself at her boyfriend, the supposedly innocent Camille Chandebise. Before the play begins, Antoinette and Camille’s affair leads to him leaving Victor Chandebise’s suspenders (which he was borrowing) at the Hotel Coq d’Or. The hotel sends the suspenders back to Camille’s address — addressed to a Mr. Chandebise. This leads Raymonde to believe it’s her husband having the affair, not her nephew. Then, chaos ensues.
How have these roles challenged you to grow as actors?
AZ: I definitely have a big responsibility in these roles because the play basically revolves around my characters — all the other characters have to react to them — so I had to come into rehearsal as prepared as possible. Not only did I need to learn the lines, but I went through the script with a fine-toothed comb, figuring out the entrances and exits for each characters, making sure I know my parts so the other actors can rehearse and I don’t get confused when it starts to pick up pace. There are still moments I get confused! It makes it fun for the audience but I’m backstage running around, changing costumes, making sure I’m entering the right door as the right character for the right reason.
This isn’t the first time I’ve played two roles, but there’s a big difference between playing roles that are all performed differently and playing characters that are meant to be confused for one another, where that’s part of the joke. I have to find the middle ground, finding similarities between the two, and toward the end of the play, they begin to take on each other’s identities.
SU: Working with our guest director Gus [Kaikkonen] (The opportunities we get to work with guest directors at the School of Theatre & Dance are amazing!) has pushed me to work especially hard, to be as precise as possible. Comedy works in precision — precision of movement, voice — it’s all very technical. Being the comedic relief, you set up the scene, and you have to know your moment and how to pass the story on.
Why should people come see “A Flea in Her Ear” at UH?
AZ: Sometimes it’s nice to sit down and watch something that makes you laugh. It takes you to a different place, it’s an escape.
SU: It’s full of laughs and love! And what else do we really want in life?