Noel Coward’s Hay Fever is a hectic romp at Stanford Rep

The Bliss Family (l-r)David (Bruce Carlton), Judith (Courtney Walsh), Sorel (Kiki Bagger) and Simon (Austin Caldwell) in Stanford Rep’s Hay Fever.

HAY FEVER: Comedy by Noel Coward. Directed by Lynn Soffer. Stanford Repertory Theater
551 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305 @ Stanford University. 650-725-5838 or www.repertorytheater.stanford.edu.  July 16- August 9, 2015

Noel Coward’s Hay Fever is a hectic romp at Stanford Rep Rating: ★★★☆☆

Research on the background of the play Hay Fever by Noel Coward revealed facts that still apply. Apparently he wrote the play in three days in 1924 specifically for a leading lady of the time who thought it “amusing and not substantial for a whole evening.” Coward remembered that the initial reviews “were amiable and well-disposed although far from effusive” although the play had a respectable run in 1925. Those remarks are applicable to Stanford Repertory Theater’s present production. It was noted, as indeed it has been today, that the play had no plot and that there were few if any ‘witty’ lines’ although the action is almost non-stop. A very attractive set, marvellous fashionable 1920’s costumes and competent cast need a bit more to bring the quintessence of a Noel Coward play to life.

That quintessence is a touch of savoir faire and distinct diction to do justice to his delicious and sometimes memorable lines. To be fair to the director and cast, the production seen on opening night was the first to performed with a live audience and knowing the quality of the director and some of the actors those perceived defects will be corrected.

Experienced director Lynn Soffer has an added disadvantage with the play since the primary characters are not very likeable bohemians whose self-centered life styles would dictate over-the-top performances that are rampant.

The three acts zip along in only two hours with an intermission between Act I and II with dimming of stage lights before the dénouement of Act III. The setting is the country home (fine set with obligatory French doors to a garden and a two level staircase on stage rear) of the Bliss family. The matriarch, Judith Bliss (Courtney Walsh), is an aging actress who has desires to return to the stage. She is married to David Bliss (Bruce Carlton), a bland novelist working on his latest book. Their spoiled young children Simon (Austin Caldwell) an artist and Sorel (Kiki Bagger) who amuse themselves are acting out passages from the play Love’s Whirlwind. A bit of banter telegraph’s the surprise denouement; “Is this a game?” and “Yes, a game that must be played to the finish.”

Unbeknownst to the others Judith has invited a handsome sportsman admirer Sandy Tyrell (Andre Amarotico), Simon has invited the vampish Myra Arundel (Deb Fink) and David invited diplomat Richard Greatham (Rush Rehm), who brings along a beautiful young flapper Jackie Coryton (Kathleen Kelso). With the maid Clara (Catherine Luedtke) all the characters are in place and Act I ends.

Act II is the humdinger with the family and guests in evening dress (Costumes by Connie Strayer) engaging in a word game that apparently was popular in the 20s and 30s. It is this game that sets up the conflicts that morph into potential relationships that carry the plot hellishly forward giving each actor a chance to emote with entrance and exits out the French doors into the garden or up the stairs. Soffer keeps the action at a high pitch moving her actors about adroitly expertly mixing pathos with the humor.

All quiets down for Act III with the unnoticed departure of the guests leaving the Bliss family on their own.

 The acting is best described as emoting with each getting their turn on center stage. Courtney Walsh gives a touch of the theater as the flamboyant actress having to match the hectic histrionics of the Austin Caldwell and Kiki Bagger. Equity Actor Deb Fink has that touch of savoir faire needed as the vamp Myra with Rush Rehm a perfect match for her with his understated performance. Beautiful Kathleen Kelso steals the show displaying Jackie’s uncertainty and vulnerability.  Catherine Luedke gives her role as the maid a perfect touch.

On this opening night the timing and diction were deficient but this should be corrected in future performances.

Artistic Staff: Director, Lynne Soffer; Set Designer, Annie Dauber; Costume Designer, Connie Strayer; Lighting Designer, Michael Ramsaur; Sound Designer, Brigitte Wittmer; Stage Manager, Analyssa Lopez; Props Mistress, Christine Edwards; Wig Designer, Vicky Martinez; Assistant Director & Dramaturg, Patty Kim Hamilton; Assistant Lighting Designer, Keenan Molner; Assistant Stage Managers, Annabel Ostrow and Victor Spielberg Verdejo.

Cast in Order of Appearance: Sorel Bliss, Kiki Bagger; Simon Bliss, Austin Caldwell; Judith Bliss, Courtney Walsh; David Bliss, Bruce Carlton; Clara, Catherine  Luedtke; Sandy Tyrell Andre Amarotico; Myra Arundel, Deb Fink; Jackie Coryton, Kathleen Kelso; Richard Greatham, Rush Rehm.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com.

 

The Bliss Family (l-r)David (Bruce Carlton), Judith (Courtney Walsh), Sorel (Kiki Bagger) and Simon (Austin Caldwell)