Last night for Hay Fever at Opera House
By Marilyn de Lang
Quintessentially British, but American-inspired, Noel Coward’s Hay Fever is a sparkling portrayal of what can go awry when the unwitting bourgeoisie are exposed to the outrageously bohemian.
The play centres on the Bliss family — the melodramatic matriarch, Judith; her preoccupied novelist husband, David; and their spoiled adult children, Simon and Soren. With a rather tenuous grasp on reality, parents and offspring instinctively diminish their chronic ennui with contrived dramatic intrigue.
Unbeknownst to the others, each of them has invited a weekend visitor: a distinguished diplomat, a shy flapper, a young boxer, and a jaded sophisticate. While rather a mixed bag themselves, the guests do adhere to convention and decorum; and they are considerably discomfited when plunged into the family’s bewildering dynamics, with hilarious results. The audience will find itself equally engaged in the perplexing task of sorting out reality from artifice.
Coward’s wickedly biting comedies reveal the clear eye of an outsider’s perspective on England’s high society of the day. Despite an impoverished background, he became the darling of the aristocracy by virtue of his charm and ambition, and their foibles provided him with rich material.
Hay Fever found its genesis in Coward’s 1921 visit to New York City during the heyday of the Jazz Era. He spent considerable time with newfound friends: a flamboyant actress, her playwright husband, and their boisterous children. Their wild flirtations and bizarre games (often at the expense of their hapless guests) resonate in the Bliss family’s eccentricities.
This play was first presented on the stage of Gravenhurst’s Opera House by the Straw Hat Players in 1949, followed by a triumphant reprise by the famed Follows family in 2001. The Dragonfly Theatre, under the direction of Pru Donaldson, has once again captured the nuances that make this comedy of manners so highly entertaining.
The talented Emma Phillips portrays Judith’s idiosyncrasies with flair, while David Walton, as her husband, captures the remote vagueness of Coward’s self-absorbed novelist. Teal Cochrane (Soren) and Ryan Ferris (Simon) establish the comfortable rapport of the siblings, whether they are bickering or colluding. The other cast members — Nickolas Kulchar, Allen Hutchings, Myrna McBrien, Taylor Johann, and Lauren Saunders — are excellent in their roles as the tortured guests and long-suffering maid. The play is nicely paced, with music of the period enlivening the intermissions.
Gravenhurst Opera House celebrated the launch of its 80th season of summer theatre with a grand Soiree held on June 28th, hosted by the well-known actress, Marilyn Lightstone. The evening presented a loving retrospective of its history through narrative and performance, and previewed the fabulous offerings for the 2014 season, beginning with this charming rendition of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever.
Hay Fever runs July 9 to 19. Dinner, catered by Riverwalk Restaurant, will be served at 6:30 pm, with showtime at 8:00 pm. For more information, please visit the Gravenhurst Opera House website (www.gravenhurstoperahouse.com) or call the Box Office at 705-687-5550.
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