BWW Reviews: 2nd Story's HAY FEVER Frothy Summer Farce

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BWW Reviews: 2nd Story's HAY FEVER Frothy Summer Farce

Hay Fever is the latest summertime offering to play 2nd Story Theatre's UpStage space. It is, by far, the lightest and most comedic production on the company's bill, featuring over-the-top characters and nearly nonstop antics. Though Hay Fever has some truly laugh-out-loud moments, there are some missteps in 2nd Story's production.

Hay Fever's premise is straightforward enough: each member of the Bliss family - mother Judith (Joanne Fayan), father David (John Michael Richardson), and children Sorel (Rachel Nadeau) and Simon (Patrick Mark Saunders) - has invited a special guest to join them at their seaside home for the weekend. Naturally, each does so without informing the rest of the family of the impending arrivals. With not enough spare rooms to go around and the self-absorbed hosts entirely unconcerned about hospitality, the unsuspecting guests feel the full brunt of the hair-trigger temperaments and mercurial relationships that make up the Bliss household.

When Noel Coward wrote Hay Fever, he positioned the Bliss family as flighty, unconventional, and ridiculously excessive from the start, and here it seems 2nd Story goes off the mark. In this production, over-exaggerated portrayals of already exaggerated characters tip the balance in favor of caricature, making it difficult to connect with the Bliss family or, at first, their guests.

This hyperbole disservices the material most especially during the first act. Granted, act one is shakiest in that it is largely given to exposition: introducing the mix-up with guest invitations, hosting the visitors' staggered arrivals, and establishing each character's specific history and quirks. Coward largely ignores the "show, don't tell" rule as many of the Bliss family's lines state, again and again, that they are an exceptionally eccentric family, a mystery to outsiders, and that they are well-aware of that fact.

Even so, much of this dialogue and any of its nuances are lost in early scenes between Nadeau and Saunders. Their rapid-fire delivery seems intended to show off the characters' temperamental cleverness and energetic petulance, but unfortunately, the pace is too quick, their words run together, and entire lines are muddled in the process. Fayan fares better here and throughout the production as Judith's theatrical career more firmly grounds her character's outlandish (and very humorous) behavior, but as a whole, Hay Fever doesn't fully hit its stride until act two.

The ensemble cast finds a much better pace in the second and third acts, when after-dinner party games descend into madcap antics, loud arguments, and all characters storming off in different directions. As the evening wears on, original pairings are broken up and every member of the family swaps romantic partners and proclivities (for this, the vampish Ms. Myra Arundel becomes Mr. Myron Arundel in 2nd Story's production). The guests are more fully defined in these scenes, and they play "straight man" to the comedy as the family's zaniness wears the rose-colored tint off of the weekend vacation.

Some of Hay Fever's funniest scenes belong, in fact, to these characters. With the household in discord all around them, Myron (David Sackal), Sandy Tyrell (Brendan Macera), Richard Greatham (Nicholas Thibeault), and Jackie Coryton (the delightful Amy Thompson) compare notes and grow more and more horrified by the family's behavior. The quartet's hasty bid for freedom is a highlight of the entire performance.

Susan Bowen Powers also has solid, if brief, comedic material as the family's housekeeper, Clara. Powers gives great, snarky delivery to her one-liners, and she makes Clara's own strong personality stand out distinctly in the midst of even the most outlandish Bliss antics.

Hay Fever is performed in three short acts, with two 10-mintue intermissions to accommodate full-cast costume changes. This production runs in repertory with Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, and the two plays share an outstanding set - featuring sumptuous furnishings and décor - by Karl Pelletier. Costume designer Ron Cesario creates sharp suits, sporty leisure wear, and gorgeous flapper-style gowns that are decked in jewels, beads, and feathers, all befitting the production's mid-1920s setting.

2nd Story Theatre presents Hay Fever with performances running UpStage Thursday-Sunday through August 31, 2014. Tickets are available by phone (401) 247-4200, through e-mail boxoffice@2ndstorytheatre.com, or by visiting the box office at 28 Market Street, Warren, RI. See the company's website www.2ndstorytheatre.com for more information. Regular tickets are $30; audience members under age 21 pay $21.

PHOTO CREDIT Richard W. Dionne, Jr.

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