BWW Review: HAY FEVER at IRISH CLASSICAL THEATRE
A frothy Noel Coward evening on a warm June night sounds like perfect programming. Buffalo's Irish Classical Theatre is presenting his light hearted romp HAY FEVER with mixed results, at best. Although considered one of Coward's lesser works, HAY FEVER has achieved a respectable position in the theatre canon, mostly in part to it's unique opportunities to portray lovably odd characters.
The ironically named Bliss family, led by the glamorous stage actress Judith and her writer husband David, are summering in the countryside of England with their children Sorel and Simon. Unbeknownst to any of the others, each of the four have invited a friend/paramour/muse down for the weekend. What would have been known as a madcamp romp in it's day plays out as a 3 act lesson in droll silliness.
Director Gordon McCall has assembled an uneven cast, often with disregard for the physical types explicitly described in the script itself. ICTC favorite Josephine Hogan as Judith never truly convinces as the grande dame who has suffered for her art in raising her impertinent and sometimes rude children. Coward writes best for these over the top leading ladies and Ms. Hogan gives it her all, but her inner diva never lives up to the pomposity that Coward suggests. In order for the family dynamic to be understood, one must believe that Judith's eccentricities are inherently lovable and quirky, but Hogan never truly commands the stage. Often Mr. McCall misses out on the necessary timing and inherent subtleties of Coward's witty repartee, resulting in missed laughs. David Oliver, as David, is aptly indifferent to the craziness that surrounds his household, and his indifference bespeaks volumes as the self absorbed writer.
Marisa Caruso as Sorel strikes the perfect balance of the 19 year old who yearns for a harmlessly wicked weekend and a privileged brat who is prone to melodrama. Meanwhile JorDan Levin as young Simon was equally at home as the pouting artist prone to outbursts, which obviously would have been learned by his thespian mother.
Jacob Albarella was an audience favorite as Sandy, the simple minded jock invited by Judith. His robust laugh and physical comedy were a welcome diversion as the utterly charming family outsider. Hilary Walker was the playful cougar, Myra, invited by Simon, while David Lundy found the right tone as Sorel's awkward guest, Richard Greatham. MeLissa Levin was the flapper Jackie Coryton, invited by David as part of his research for his next novel.
Not under the climax of Act II did the action become believable. Here the comedy in Coward's writing peaks as each of the Blisses pair up with random guests, exclaiming their undying love and sometimes desire to wed immediately. The family goes into a stylized staged re-enactment of one of Judith's plays, and the audience realizes that the Bliss family is essentially an unhinged group of rag tag players.The short third Act allows the guests to plan their escape from the summer home with the Bliss family barely recalling who some of their invited guests even were.
Set designer Paul Bostaph seems to have taken the the Bohemian concept to the extreme, with gaudy color choices and furniture that appears off the floor of your local T. J. Maxx. His novel idea of rotating the set pieces a quarter turn in each act was clever. Lise Harty's costumes designs were often unflattering for the ladies, and despite some lovely concepts for the glamorous second Act, the designs were often over done, such as Myra's clumsy entrance outfit.
Just like the belovedly silly operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan that dot the stages of summer theatres, the breezy comedies of Coward and Oscar Wilde require a perfect combination of impeccable timing, tongue in cheek humor, paired with a nod to melodramatic sensibility, in order to be successful. Sadly, this time ICTC missed the mark.
Hay Fever, presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company plays at the Andrews Theatre through June 25, 2017. Contact irishclassical.com for more information.