Posted by Times-Herald Newspapers on 10/08/10
By Sue Suchyta
In Noel Coward’s 1925 comedy of manners, Hay Fever, Andrew Papa (left) as the son, Simon Bliss; Alan Ball as a self-absorbed novelist and the father, David Bliss; Samantha Rosentrater as a recently retired stage actress and the mother, Judith Bliss; and Sara Hymes as the unconventional daughter Sorel Bliss, subject their unsuspecting house guests to their family’s over-the-top and indulgent melodrama, which they sometimes engage in for situations that do not even exist, to the utter confusion of their hapless houseguests. The Hilberry production will run through Dec. 4 in rotating repertory.
The Hilberry, Wayne State University’s wonderfully talented and entertaining graduate theater company, opened its season Oct. 1 with the Noel Coward comedy of manners, “Hay Fever.” The show will run through Dec. 4 in rotating repertory.
Set in the 1930s in an English country manor house, the self-absorbed Bliss family – a recently retired actress mother, an egotistical author father, and two equally self-absorbed adult children, each invite a romantic prospect to their family’s country estate for the weekend.
It soon becomes apparent, however, that the Bliss family has invited the others to provide an audience for their deliberately random and over-the-top weekend drama.
The house guests, a generally well-mannered lot, are baffled by the draining and oddly entertaining drama that ensues.
If the 1930s had reality TV shows the Bliss family would populate its inaugural season. The company appears to enjoy the show and their roles, too – Coward created the plum parts to give his acting friends the opportunity to showcase their talent while having over-the-top fun.
The company makes the most of the funny comedy of manners and gave the audience their fill of chuckles and full-blown belly laughs.
Samantha Rosentrater cuts loose as the egotistical matriarch actress who eagerly embraces any opportunity for high drama even if she has to comically create it. She and Sara Hymes, who plays her daughter Sorel Bliss, have some wonderful scenes together.
Hymes also has some fun and clever scenes with Andrew Papa, as well. They are very entertaining in the scenes where the two adult siblings are emotionally reduced to a pair of pre-pubescent rivals.
Alan Ball as David Bliss, the father and egotistical novelist, reminds one of Stratford’s Brian Bedford in the best way possible.
It is wonderful to see Carollette Phillips, a second year company member, at long last in a larger role.
Lorelei Sturm is also enjoyable as the flapper Myra, and seems marvelously confident and at ease in the role.
It is fun to see Christopher Ellis’ character, Richard Greatham, a polished diplomat, maintain a grip on his character’s impeccable manners when bombarded by the audacious Bliss clan.
Peter Prouty evokes much laughter as the boxer Sandy Tyrell, who seems to be just barely keeping up with all the Bliss craziness. And while his lipstick-covered face is funny for one entrance, wearing red facial smears like the loser of a paintball war for the rest of the act is overkill.
John Woodland’s 1930s costume designs for the ladies are a fun visual treat.
Kudos to dialect coach Michael Barnes for treating the house to a wide range of British accents through the cast, from Vanessa Sawson’s saucy Cockney maid Clara to Christopher Ellis’ clipped diplomat-speak.
The theater is at Cass and Hancock in the shadow of Old Main on the Wayne State university campus.
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