In the Bliss household, reality is very rarely real. Judith, a recently retired actress, her husband David, and her two children, Sorel and Simon, love to cause, propagate, and react to drama, whether real or not.
When they all inadvertently invite houseguests down for the same weekend, the boxer, the flapper, the diplomat, and the sophisticate are in for quite an eventful weekend. In Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, which opened in the Bruce Davis Theater on October 14, the cast and crew produced a hilarious version of this 1920s comedy of words.
Briana Manente (Judith Bliss) was fabulous as the larger-than-life matriarch. Although she rushed a little towards the beginning, she quickly fell into a fast-paced and witty pace.
Her over-emoting, polished upper class dialect, and impeccable use of exaggerated hand gestures, perfectly portrayed the stereotypical dramatic (even in “reality”) actress.
Lisa M. Davidson was engaging as the bouncy, pouty, and flighty Sorel Bliss. Her skipping conveyed youth and excitement, as did her sudden outbursts at her mother and brother.
Simon too, played by Maxwell Heaton, had excellent comedic timing with dry delivery and a lazy, mildly apathetic physicality and intonation. Tobias Franzen as David Bliss was not upstaged by his dramatic wife or his unique children; instead he held his own with his alternating apparent disinterest and startling, commanding yelling.
The Bliss family together had excellent chemistry as they interacted in their own, self-important world. When they seamlessly slide into a dramatic scene from one of Judith’s plays from their own real argument, the effect is hilarious.
The ensemble in its various forms provided an excellent view into the characters, whether watching Sorel and Judith read a newspaper and giggle together, or Simon and Sorel bickering in the beginning over Sorel’s invited guest.
Rapid witty banter with few pauses in the speech is thoroughly enjoyable and leaves little time for the audience to try to find a deep meaning.
Nick Huber (Sandy Tyrell), Emily Moore (Myra Arundel), Jonathan Wagner (Richard Greatham), and Naomi Garcia (Jackie Coryton) as the four guests, and Suzanna Sample as Clara were all also thoroughly entertaining.
Huber’s puppy-dog innocence and sincerity was endearing and contrasted well with the intensity and drama of the Blisses.
Wagner’s sweetness in dealing with the insanity surrounding him was refreshing, and the shy and simple character of Jackie was demurely played by Garcia. Arundel was highly enjoyable with a constantly sour face and haughty tone.
And Sample captured the character of Judith’s dresser-turned-housekeeper with her clever remarks and knowing responses.
The set reflected the opulence and extravagance of the Bliss family, but did create a few, albeit minor, problems. A grand staircase that twists and flares at the bottom perfectly captures the drama the Bliss family clearly prefers, as did carpets, couches, and a footstool in vibrant patterns.
However, the carpet did trip up the actors a few times and got caught on the bottom of the couches, kinks that didn’t remotely affect the overall performance but could have been slightly annoying to a perfectionist.
Additionally, the hanging backdrop that represented the garden moved as each actor walked by, and slamming doors occasionally shook walls, but except for slightly breaking the realism, the effect was minimal.
Hay Fever will be performing Oct. 21 through 23 at 8 p.m. and 24 at 2 p.m.