Sunday, March 18, 2007

HAY FEVER (Great Lakes Theater Festival)

Delightful ‘HAY FEVER’ at Great Lakes Theater Festival

Charles Fee, producing artistic director of the Great Lakes Theater Festival, loves farce, he relishes double-takes, over exaggeration and bigger than life situations. Noel Coward’s ‘HAY FEVER, now on stage at GLTF, was seemingly written for Fee to direct! It’s a script with no end of hysterics, directed by a man who breathes life into every possible hysterical moment.

‘HAY FEVER’ has been described as a comedy of bad manners. And that’s exactly what it is. The Blisses, who live in the English country side, give new meaning to the words, “dysfunctional family,” and all who come within their wild world get swept into the catacomb of zaniness. This group lives a life that is anything but bliss.

Noel Coward’s plays epitomize the sophisticated wit of the era between the two world wars. ‘HAY FEVER’ epitomizes the witty style and forked tongue of the English master of farce. Its 1925 opening was met with raves and established Coward as a major playwright. A 2006 revival of the show in London starred recent Academy Award nominee Dame Judith Dench and was met with similar raves.

The Bliss contingency consist of Judith Bliss, a recently retired stage actress obsessed about her age, her looks, and desire to be continuously indulged. Her husband David is a self-observed best selling author of bad books. Their adult children, Sorel and Simon, having been brought up in chaos, lack any sense of reality. Being overly dramatic is the norm. Into this eccentricity come a group of house guests. Unfortunately, as is the case with most of their lives, none of the Blisses know that each has invited a weekend visitor. The results are comedic chaos.

Coward once stated that the play has ‘‘no plot at all and remarkably little action. Its general effectiveness therefore depends on expert technique from each and every member of the cast [and the director’s creativity].’’ Fortunately for GLTF, their director and cast are up to the task. In the hands of a lesser company, ‘HAY FEVER’ could be a torturous experience. This is definitely not the case at GLTF.

Fee masterminds the fun. The pace is fast, the characters clearly etched, the laugh lines are all keyed, and the overall effect is wonderful.

Kathleen Pirkl Tague is correctly over-the-top as Judith. She creates THE drama queen of drama queens. This is one show in which over acting is needed, and Tague can over act! She is rivaled by Sara Bruner as Sorel. Bruner creates a character whose lack of reality is so normal and natural that it makes her believable. Jeffrey C. Hawkins flits around the stage like Tinker Bell. Hawkins so overdoes the roll that he makes us easily believe that his lack of reality is a norm. Aled Davies’s David perfectly characterizes the emotionally absent father who has disdain for the family and everyone else. The rest of the cast, Laura Perrotta, David Anthony Smith, Laura Welsh, Lynn Robert Berg and Elizabeth Ann Townsend are all wonderful.

Gage Williams’ set, Nicole Frachiseur’s costumes and Peter John Still’s sounds, all add to the goings-on.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘HAY FEVER’ is a laugh riot. This production is a must see for anyone who loves to have a good time in the theatre and care not about the worries of the world.