Review: Forget plot, Hilberry’s ‘Hay Fever’ is all laughs

Lawrence B. Johnson / Special to The Detroit News

Noel Coward is said to have written his 1925 comedy Hay Fever, a dizzying whirl of unbridled wit, in three days. The project surely was expedited by the author’s freedom from any semblance of structure.

As Coward famously observed, Hay Fever has “no plot at all and remarkably little action.” It is merely a funhouse of laughter, and it’s tapped for much of that risible charm by the young players at Hilberry Theatre.

If there is no story as such, there is at least a setup: Judith Bliss, a recently retired actress, lives in the country with her husband David Bliss, a novelist, and their two grown children, a daughter Sorel and a son Simon. In their well-to-do fashion, they’re a bohemian lot whose penchant for melodramatic play-acting can leave visitors daunted and dazed.

We soon discover that visitors are about to arrive — four of them, to the mutual surprise of the four Blisses, who each have invited a guest for the weekend unbeknownst to the other members of the household. And so the guests convene: a worldly diplomat, a red-frocked vamp, a clueless flapper and a young man with a crush on the veteran actress.

Once that table is set, Hilberry’s Hay Fever quickly turns belly-laugh funny through a conclusion somewhere between madness and oblivion.

Guests are unwitting extras in household dramatics in “Hay Fever." Photo credit: Rick Fosbrink

The Blisses’ unsuspecting guests are by turns ignored, dismissed, drawn into games that turn out to be games within games and exploited as an audience for the home team’s full-throttle histrionics. Think of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf without the venom. There’s little more I would want to give away, except to say that we come to identify solidly with the flummoxed visitors.

Heading director David J. Magidson’s well-oiled ensemble is Samantha Rosentrater as a swooning, petulant, mordantly droll Judith Bliss. She is smartly complemented by Alan Ball as her dryly acerbic husband, Andrew Papa as her readily importuned son, and Sara Hymes as the impulsive daughter who just wants to be normal (or perhaps not).

The sporting visitors, ever in puzzled retreat, are Christopher Ellis as the diplomat, Lorelei Sturm as the vamp, Carollette Phillips as the flapper and Peter Prouty as the fan. Vanessa Swanson adds an antic maid. One might quibble over the actors’ assorted English accents, but they compensate with a spirit that’s uniformly spot-on.

Designer Rudolph C. Schuepbach’s airy parlor set is a visual treat, and John D. Woodland’s stylish costumes lend the show its finest accent.

Read the original article from The Detroit News here.


One thought on “Review: Forget plot, Hilberry’s ‘Hay Fever’ is all laughs

  1. Pingback: Detroit News Of Mice and Men Feature « The Hilberry Theatre

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