Georges Feydeau

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Plays by Georges Feydeau

A Flea in Her Ear

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Georges Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear (La puce à l’oreille) is a classic French farce, first performed at the Théâtre des Nouveautés in Paris on 2 March 1907.

Stephen Mulrine, in his introduction to this translation by Kenneth McLeish, describes A Flea in Her Ear as 'perhaps Feydeau’s best-known play, certainly to English audiences, and its intricate choreography draws together two classic farce plots – that of the suspicious wife who sets a trap to expose her faithless partner, and the venerable comic device of mistaken identity. And the latter complicates the former to such a degree that by the end of Act II, the spectator is almost as exhausted, mentally, as Feydeau’s characters are, physically, by their manic pursuit of each other across the stage, in a flurry of whirling doors and spinning beds.'

Mulrine also observes that 'Feydeau’s plays are a form of perpetual motion, and almost impossible to summarise, but taken by itself, the mistaken identity plot is comparatively straightforward: the supposed unfaithful husband, Chandebise, bears an uncanny resemblance to a drunken porter, Poche (both parts are played by the same actor), and when circumstances bring the two into proximity, in the seedy Hotel Casablanca, all hell breaks loose. Those circumstances arise through the workings of the main plot, set in motion with the entry of the principal characters, midway through Act I, when Chandebise’s wife Raymonde confesses to her friend Lucienne that she suspects her husband of infidelity, while Chandebise himself, a little later, complains to Dr Finache about a worrying, and inexplicable, loss of sexual vigour.'

The Girl From Maxim's

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Discussing the manner in which a middle-class man is saved from retribution for an apparently illicit tryst by a level-headed woman of supposedly low morals, translator Kenneth McLeish writes that The Girl from Maxim's comes 'close to the Naturalist plays of the period in which bourgeois hypocrisy, especially in sexual matters, was satirised in more serious dramatic form.'

The morning after a heavy drinking session and Dr. Petypon is struggling to remember what he did the night before. Waking on his sofa to a sore head and a chamber in disarray, clarity begins to dawn on him, only to reveal, to his horror, that a show-girl from the Folies-Bergère is sleeping in his bed.

That girl, Shrimp, continues to be insinuated in the Petypons' life, and as the Doctor's wife must be avoided, and his uncle pacified, she proves herself to be a high-kicking, quick-thinking success.

The Girl from Maxim's is perhaps Feydeau's best-known play. It premiered at the Théâtre des Nouveautés, Paris, in 1899.

Heart's Desire Hotel

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

M. Pinglet’s plans for a romantic night at a seedy hotel with his neighbour’s wife, Marcelle, are thrown into disarray by the arrival of his friend Mathieu and his large family , and by his own wife’s close attentions to his comings and goings. Still, he manages to escape to the Heart’s Desire Hotel to meet with Marcelle. Sadly for him, so too does her husband, as well as many of their friends and acquaintances, who run a chaotic rule throughout a hotel which has many beds but no place to rest.

In his introduction, translator Kenneth McLeish writes: 'Heart's Desire Hotel (L'Hotel du libre échange) is justly one of the most famous comedies of assumed identity in the repertoire; the fact that the only couple to achieve any satisfaction is the young Maxime and Victoire, while the older characters remain frightened and frustrated, is entirely in keeping with the traditions of farce going back to classical times.'

Heart's Desire Hotel premiered at the Théâtre des Nouveautés in 1894.

Jailbird

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Jailbird is an early farce by Georges Feydeau. Tranlsator Kenneth McLeish writes that 'it was one item in a miscellaneous programme of monologues, comic songs and daft poems . . . The piece shows occasional apprentice touches: the inconsequentiality of some of the jokes, for example, climaxing in the very last line of all, suggests a group of students giggling together rather than a single-minded artist fully in control of his effects. But the themes of Feydeau's major works are all here, and the misunderstandings and dazzle of the dialogue show his mastery even at this early age.'

Jailbird takes place in the apartment of the singer Pépita who is struggling to ignore her cuckolded husband, Plumard, as she waits for the arrival of her admirer Taupinier. Into the mix comes the school-teacher Grumpard, posing pseudonymously as Lemercier, a debonair man-about-town, whose sole desire is to meet with the singer he admires from afar.

The lovers though mistake him for a murderer-at-large, also named Lemercier, and go to great lengths to protect themselves from the threat they imagine he poses.

Jailbird or Le Gibier de potence was first produced in 1894 by Le Cercle Volney, a semi-private theatre club, directed by Feydeau himself. He was only 21 at the time.

Now You See It

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Now You See It is a tale of love, jealousy, infidelity and hypnotism. Ribadier, the second wife of widow Angèle, evades his wife’s paranoid jealousy by means of his skills as a hypnotist. However, his cosy system begins to fall apart when he reveals his trick to Thommerau, a man seeking to romance Angèle himself.

In his introduction, translator Kenneth McLeish writes: 'Now You See It (Le Sysème Ribadier, written in collaboration with Hennequin in 1892), a darker comedy altogether, subverts the vaudeville tradition, even as it follows it, letting the men's obsessions turn them into mechanistic puppets – in a manner English readers may associate with Orton's characters in Loot or What the Butler Saw – while the heroine's character and personality flower before our eyes. It has one of the smallest casts and tightest construction of any Feydeau farce. It was one of the author's own favourite plays and he revived it in 1909 under a new title, Nothing Known.'

Now You See It was first performed at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in 1892, the same year as The One That Got Away

The One That Got Away

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Duchotel is going away on a fishing trip, leaving his wife, Léontine, alone for the weekend. Lucky for him he has his friend Moricet to look after her. Lucky for Moricet too, as he is in love with Léontine. Can he whisk her off to his love nest and convince him to love her? And is Duchotel gone fishing at all?

In his introduction, translator Kenneth McLeish writes: 'The One That Got Away (Monsieur chasse!, 1892) is a fine example of Feydeau's 'demented clockwork' style of plotting, an effect much heightened by the smallness of the cast . . . Feydeau, who directed his own plays, always made his actors perform the dialogue of such scenes with utmost seriousness, as if they were high tragedy; the action, by contrast, was speeded up, heightened and mechanistic. Dislocation between the two styles made for hilarity – a production-method still followed in France.'

The One That Got Away was first performed at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, in 1892.

Pig in a Poke

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Pig in a Poke, as the title suggests, is a play about a case of mistaken identity: expecting a famous tenor to come and perform in his daughter’s rewriting of Faust, the wealthy sugar-baron Pacarel instead receives, unbeknownst to him, the son of his friend Dufausset.

In his introduction, translator Kenneth McLeish writes: 'Pig in a Poke (Chat en poche was first performed in 1888, a year after Feydeau's first big 'hit', Tailleur pour dames. It is a masterpiece of construction, not so much an arch as a continuous escalation of confusion – and the Meilhac/Halévy influence, in that the characters' apparently ordinary dialogue (the kind of language you might have heard in an drawing room of the time) belies the astounding content of what the people are saying or the thoughts inside their heads . . . Pig in a Poke may be chamber music compared to the grand symphonic structures of A Flea in Her Ear or The Girl from Maxim's, but is also one of his most accomplished works.'

Pig in a Poke premiered at the Théâtre Déjazet, Paris, in 1888.

Sauce for the Goose

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Pontagnac, good friend of Vatelin, desires Vatelin’s wife, Lucienne, so much that he will betray his friend’s secret: that his friend betrayed his wife with another woman, Maggy. But will that give Pontagnac enough leverage to turn Lucienne towards his desires?

In his introduction, translator Kenneth McLeish writes: 'Sauce for the Goose (Le Dindon), which enjoyed a long run at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in 1896, is a characteristic 'well-made' grand vaudeville, with a lunatic second act framed by gentler material. It is, however, driven by character. Each person is clearly individuated and the differences between Redillon and Potagnac or Lucienne and Clotilde make the point that two individuals can share the same approach to life, or the same response to unexpected events, but show it in entirely different ways.'

She's All Yours

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Alcide Chanal is recording a message of congratulations on his phonograph to send to his sister ahead of her wedding, but is interrupted by a string of guests – his friend Hubertin, and the politician Coustillou – as well as his wife Francine who has a matrimonial communication of her own; she has finally worked up the courage to tell her husband that she has been unfaithful to him. She has a lover, who loves her, makes her feel valued beyond the trappings of being a mere wife. Sadly for her, Alcide doesn't believe her.

It is nonetheless true: and to compound this cuckolding so close to home, Alcide unwittingly leases his ground floor apartment in his building to his rival, an ex-schoolmate named Massenay.

When Massenay and Francine's cooing is captured by the phonograph, Alcide has proof positive that his wife has been unfaithful, though not who his rival is. Delighted by this dramatic turn of events, he pursues each of his suspects manfully, intending to extract his justice as though it were a rare and juicy pleasure.

In his introduction, translator Kenneth McLeish draws a parallel between this 1904 farce, and the Naturalists' serious dramas of the same period; like Ibsen, for example, Feydeau's play is 'close to the Naturalist plays of the period in which bourgeois hypocrisy, especially in sexual matters, was satirised in more serious dramatic form.'

She's All Yours was first performed at the Théâtre des Nouveautés, Paris.

George Feydeau (1862-1921) was a French dramatist remembered for his farces, mostly on the traditional themes of adultery, mistaken identity, and misunderstanding. He is widely regarded as a master of plot and dialogue. The best known of his nearly forty plays are perhaps L'Hôtel du libre échange, La Dame de chez Maxim, and Puce à l'oreille.