Monday, November 18, 2013

Catch HAY FEVER This Week at IWU

Achoo! I don't recall anyone sneezing in Noel Coward's Hay Fever, although it would be in character if it were the biggest, most over-the-top sneeze ever. Hay Fever, which first played in London in 1925, is one of those blithe and witty comedies about crazy theatrical people who pull a few unsuspecting "normal" people (i.e., not theatre people) into their orbit and the hijinks that ensue when they do. It's sort of The Royal Family by way of Private Lives.

This one involves Judith Bliss, grande dame of the English stage, and her husband, David, a novelist, who decide to spend a weekend at their country home, with their equally flaky children, Simon and Sorel, in tow. Each of them has asked along a potential romantic partner, but once their guests are there, the Blisses pull all sorts of parlor games and silly tricks that baffle the newcomers. There are misunderstandings when flowery dialogue from one of Judith's hit shows is inserted into real conversations, feigned mad passion, emotional outbursts and all sorts of tempests in teapots. The Blisses are charming, eccentric and self-indulgent, with a sort of 1920s "tennis, anyone?" elegance along with their madcap antics.

Hay Fever may not be revived as often as Private Lives or Blithe Spirit, but it has enjoyed four Broadway productions since it opened in 1925 with Laura Hope Crews (Aunt Pittypat in Gone with the Wind) as Judith Bliss and multiple British productions in London and the provinces. Over the years, actresses as different as Shirley Booth, Constance Collier, Judi Dench, Lindsay Duncan, Edith Evans, Rosemary Harris and Diana Rigg have all played Judith, while Derek Jacobi, Ian McKellen and Sam Waterston have done Simon, and Maggie Smith has played both Myra and Jackie, the female guests in the party.

Illinois Wesleyan professor Nancy Loitz directs the McPherson Theatre production of Hay Fever that opens tomorrow, with Kate Fitzgerald as Judith, Ian Scarlato as David, Abby Dryden and Will Henke as Sorel and Simon, Joey Chu, Jenna Haimes, Forrest Loeffler and Priscilla Moy as the confused guests who wander into the Bliss household, and Alexa Eldridge as the family housekeeper. Debra Madans completes the cast as an understudy.

IWU's production begins Tuesday November 19 and continues through Saturday November 23, with performances at 8 pm each night. There will also be a Sunday matinee at 2 pm on the 24th. For ticket information, you can click here for the box office site, visit the the School of Theatre Arts Facebook page, or call the box office directly at 309-556-3232.


  1. I saw one of the Broadway revivals -- the most recent one, I find, though it was as long ago as 1985. I wish I could remember it in more detail! I remember it being fizzy and delightful but no more than that; maybe that's what the play is really about. Certainly it was in good hands, being directed by Brian Murray, with Rosemary Harris (always a joy in period comedy with smashing clothes for her), Roy Dotrice, Barbara Bryne, Robert Joy, Charles Kimbrough, Deborah Rush, and Campbell Scott in the cast.

    The first two Broadway Judiths, Laura Hope Crews and Constance Collier, seem very different types than the willowy elegant Rosemary Harris, but of course I know them only from their later film roles playing rather grotesque grandmothers and aunts. And then the third one, Shirley Booth, is a whole other thing too. The 1964 Old Vic production must have been a hoot, with Edith Evans AND Maggie Smith AND a young Lynn Redgrave in the cast.

  2. Yeah, I was surprised how many intriguing productions there have been in the UK, given how few times we seem to see it in the US. I consider it a lesser light, honestly. The Bliss family can get very annoying very quickly in the wrong hands.

    When compiling that list of Judiths, Rosemary Harris was the one who struck me as the "of course" choice, I suppose because she was also in "The Royal Family," which has a similar feel to me. Not completely, but with the idea of the impossibly dramatic actress mother. And Harris has played both the daughter and the mother in Royal Family.

  3. I agree about "lesser light," but a lot of Coward when we get beyond a couple of classics is like that. A chance for magnetic theater pros to swan about entertainingly for a couple of hours, but no real story construction or tension. I honestly think (reluctantly) that television, which makes it easy to watch attractive people mindlessly for a couple of hours, has taken a lot of the future out of this sort of confection.

  4. "Swan about" is exactly it! And I hadn't thought about it, but I suppose television does fill that quota, doesn't it? People on the line between annoying and charming who manage to be entertaining as they hover over that line, pulling otherwise "nice" people into their messes to comic effect... Dick Van Dyke, MTM, Bob Newhart, Seinfeld, Friends, Big Bang Theory, Parks & Recreation, Community, Happy Endings, HIMYM, New Girl, etc. etc. It just depends whether they are more annoying or more entertaining for individual viewers. So I find the Big Bang people and New Girl annoying, but love the Parks & Rec ones. HIMYM has both for me -- find Barney beyond annoying, while Marshall and Lily are amusing, and I even like Ted, who is probably the most hated character for the general public. Very interesting. The difference is that we invite these people into our living rooms again and again, whereas we only see Noel Coward's crazy people every once in awhile.