Thoughts & Musings

Lighthearted Noel Coward Comedy Is Bliss

Every aspect of 2nd Story’s production of “Hay Fever” is nothing less than perfection personified.

by Dave Christner, Newport Mercury
  • 15th August 201415/08/14
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Noel Coward’s drawing room comedy “Hay Fever,” now playing at Warren’s 2nd Story Theatre, is at home in the East Bay as clam cakes and lobster rolls. The play makes no intellectual demands of even the most rudimentary sort; it is for all practical purposes pointless, but, nonetheless it leaves you deliciously satisfied.

Nobody is going to fret about what happens to novelist David Bliss (John Michael Richardson), his over the hill actress wife, Judith (Joanne Fayan), or either of his two way offspring, daughter Sorel (Rachel Nadeau), and son, Simon (Patrick Mark Saunders). The whole dysfunctional lot falls nicely into the category of upper class twits you’d find in a Monty Python skit. They smoke; they drink; they laugh. They “dress” for dinner, and, of course they exchange cutting barbs like Cupid shoots off random arrows.

In spite of their eccentricities (and there are many), all Coward’s characters exude a certain underlying charm. Director Ed Shea’s vision and his brilliant cast are largely responsible for our acceptance, if not affection, for the Bliss family and their values, all of them exclusively concentrated on the Bliss family.

Former toast of the town and queen of the British stage, retired Judith Bliss is the likely inspiration for the iconic Norma Desmond in the 1950s film “Sunset Boulevard.” But Gloria Swanson who played Desmond in the film would have a hard time topping Fayan’s performance in “Hay Fever.” Outfitted in a fabulous wardrobe of Ron Cesario designer digs, Fayan brilliantly captures every nuance of the over-the-hill star’s conflicted life. Judith adores and at the same time is insanely jealous of Sorel’s beauty and youth. She loves her less than useless son Simon but is critical of his lack of direction and structure. The highpoint of the evening is Fayan’s dance as “Salome,” a beautifully choreographed parody of Salome’s “Dance of the Seven Veils” adapted from the New Testament.

Nadeau, Saunders, and Richardson are no less brilliant than Fayan in their portrayals as Sorel, Simon, and David. Whether flaunting their decadent lifestyle or arguing like spoiled siblings, Nadeau and Saunders enliven the stage with Coward’s witty repartee. The steady and understated Richardson is, as always, right on cue with his portrayal of the patriarch of the Bliss clan. His “love scene” with Myron Arundel (David Sackal) is unforgettable.

Karl Pelletier’s lovely set (which doubles for the Agatha Christie piece running in repertory this summer) gets a trifle crowded when four guests arrive for the weekend. The sheer volume of visitors puts housemaid, Clara (Susan Bowen Powers) in a state and sends the family into frenzy, looking for accommodations somewhere other than in the overbooked Japanese room of the Bliss country home.

In addition to the aforementioned Myron, the guests include: diplomat Richard Greatham (Nicholas Thibeault), Sandy Tyrell (Brendan Macera), a strapping young boxer, and Jackie Coryton (Amy Thompson), a stranger David Bliss invited down for the weekend so he could observe her for use as a potential character in a new novel.

Sackal, Powers, Thibeault, Macera, and Thompson are exceptional in their respective roles, never missing a cue or losing touch with their character. Whether doing the wooing or being wooed or not knowing which position to take, they are on the fast track, swapping Coward’s clever banter with professional aplomb.

“Hay Fever” is the kind of play that contemporary playwrights seldom write for fear of not being taken seriously by critics and academics. The truth is: very few modern playwrights have the kind of natural talent it takes to write such lighthearted comedy. Lucky for us, however, Noel Coward recognized, nurtured, and used his gifts wisely to pen some of the most vibrant and fun-loving plays ever written in the English language. Don’t miss this one! Every aspect of 2nd Story’s production of “Hay Fever” is nothing less than perfection personified.

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