By Noel Coward
Directed by Tom Larking
Starring Cira Larkin, Tim Bass, Rachel Comeau and Logan Curran
Theatre Downtown, Orlando FL
If you’re reading this, you may be a bit arty, but not as arty as the Bliss household. They “live in the country,” that’s British code speak for bored to death in a small town with little entertainment beyond a leaky boat and a steady downpour of rain. To alleviate the boredom they invite random acquaintances to weekend with them with the implication some level of hanky-panky will occur. Cute Sorel (Comeau) invites stuffy diplomat Richard Greatham (Tim DeBaun) while her brother Simon (Curran) aims at icy society girl Myra Arundel (Vera Varlamov). Matriarch Judith’s current career consists of retirement tours and collecting press clippings; she’s selected athletic yet rather dim boxer Sandy Tyrell (Daniel Cooksley). Her writer husband David (Bass) puts his wager on flapper Jackie Coryton (Pamela Stone), he wants to study her “in a middle class environment” which sure sounds like a euphemism to me. If that feels like a telephone book of exposition, Mr. Coward wrote it, not me. The Bliss family is self admittedly unconventional, and they’ve booked all four of these marks into the same guest room. What follows is an elaborate parade of mis-aimed groping, off stage canoodling, rapidly rotating marriage proposals, and stunning costumes. It’s a screw ball comedy of manners, poking fun at stuffy English politeness and pushing guests to edge of incivility.
It’s also a high energy piece of comedic farce with a stripped down set of slamming doors, the Bliss’s use sex as a shrimping net to collect victims for their internal family entertainment. Larkin’s fading charms are a classic role for women “of a certain age”; she still thinks ingénue roles are possible even as she arranges her next farewell tour. Ms. Comeau and Mr. Curran are the more calculating of the set; you wouldn’t want them making you into a voodoo doll. Mr. DeBaun is formal yet stunned by the poor protocol and wears the most amazing yellow striped sport coat; I think I owned a couch like that once up on a time. Mr. Cooksley’s Sandy is open to an older woman, but everything’s negotiable and Sorel is more his demographic – he’s confused by the goings on but has his very nice hair and fisticuffs to fall back on when times get tight. And Bass’s writer persona never seems interested in his flapper, during a parlor game Ms. Stone is brought to tears by the concept of “adverb.” Really?
Is there a message here? I hope not, this is a light weight piece of fun that sometimes feels dated but drew a steady stream of laughs from a small opening night audience. The costumes were amazing; Ms. Stones second act outfit ought to be in a fashion museum. I never caught on to the reasoning behind the title but “Hay Fever” is a great date night planted solidly in early British absurdism.
For more information on Theatre Downtown, please visit http://www.theatredowntown.net