Sunday, July 13, 2014

Hay Fever Is an Ideal Summer Treat

By Andrew Juhl

Cedar Rapids - I’ve always considered Hay Fever to be one of Noël Coward’s best comedies. The play is breezy and ultimately trivial, with one-dimensional, self-indulgent characters. Coward himself once remarked that this play had “no plot at all and remarkably little action,” yet Hay Fever continues—almost 90 years after its original debut—to connect with audiences.

Part of its appeal might lie specifically in its aforementioned triviality and simplicity. The play doesn’t make heavy demands of its audiences. There’s nothing to analyze, there’s no real meaning to be found. It can just be watched and enjoyed, like the best mindless summer entertainment. Another appealing aspect, to be sure, are the hapless shenanigans in which its characters continue to find themselves embroiled, which require a strong ensemble, good chemistry, and anything-but-hapless comedic timing.

Retired actress Judith Bliss (Marty Norton) and her novelist husband David Bliss (David Morton) are parents to the equally eccentric Simon and Sorel (Aaron Murphy and Angela Billman). Each member of the Bliss family has, unbeknownst to the others, invited a guest for the weekend — causing there to be quite a full house, much to the chagrin of the housemaid, Clara (Cherryl Moon Thomason). To make matters worse, there aren’t enough rooms for everyone; Clara informs Judith that there isn’t enough food; and each guest is detested by at least one family member. Once everyone has arrived, the guests are ignored by their hosts and flirtations quickly escalate to melodrama and confusion.

Of the guests, I found Kristen Wilcox’s portrayal of the painfully shy flapper Jackie Coryton to be the most memorable — perhaps because she is the only character that generated any actual sympathy. Lindsay Prince’s character, Myra Arundel, is blowsy and described by Judith as a “vampire.” Handsome diplomat Richard Greatham (Matthew James) and Mr. Sandy Tyrell (Jim Kropa) are the male guests, and—along with the females—get caught in compromising positions, misunderstandings, and other flabbergastations. Both James and Kropa brought gut-busting laughter from the audience, either through sly delivery or broad physical comedy.

The star of the night, however, is the put-upon maid, Cherryl Moon Thomason. I had a genuine smile every moment this actress was on stage. Director Jim Kern commands a cohesive and talented cast, as well as provides some interesting surprises that take advantage of Brucemore’s outdoor setting. Grab a bottle wine, a blanket, and your favorite theatre-going companion, then get a ticket to the final weekend of an a excellent production of this hilarious and wonderful play.

Hay Fever continues Thurs-Sat July 17-19 at 8 p.m. Tickets/info available here.

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