Thursday, September 18, 2014

Catching HAY FEVER Next Week?

It seems like Illinois State University's fall semester has been underway for forever. It's really only been a bit more than a month. But that's plenty of time to get a cast and crew ready for Noel Coward's Hay Fever, a 1924 comedy about an eccentric theatrical family enjoying a weekend in the country.

I call the Bliss family theatrical even though Judith, the mother in the mix, is the only one with a career on the stage. Judith has supposedly retired, but she's still quite the diva. Her husband David is a novelist, while their son Simon fancies himself an artist and daughter Sorel is an ingenue who longs to be "a fresh, open-air girl with a passion for games."

They're all more than a bit crazy. When they take to their country house for the weekend, each member of the Bliss family invites a guest, unbeknownst to the others. Let's just everybody is planning a flirtation with someone. Judith has invited a handsome young boxer named Sandy, while David's guest is Jackie, a dippy but pretty flapper, Simon's is a vamp named Myra and Sorel's is Richard Greatham, a diplomat with a stiff upper lip and more of a sense of propriety than the other nuts and bolts in the bunch.

Once they're all jumbled together in one household -- tennis, anyone? -- things get crazy quickly. The Blisses are already 'round the bend, but their guests and their put-upon housekeeper Clara (she used to be Judith's dresser when she was on the stage) will have to move fast to keep their wits about them.

Hay Fever is not the best-known among Coward's plays, but it does enjoy fairly regular revivals. It's hit Broadway four times, the most recent in 1986. Closer to home, Illinois Wesleyan University put it on a year or two ago. But now Illinois State University and director Sonja Moser are offering their own take on this lighter-than-air confection from 1924.

Moser is known for her singular, often physical approach to material. Her Electra, a show she directed at ISU and then moved to Chicago's Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company, was both musical and meta-theatrical, with country rock songs, a lot of mud and loads of energy.

What will an artist like Moser do with a bon bon like Hay Fever? We'll have to wait till September 24 to find out.

This Hay Fever stars MFA acting candidate Bethany Hart and undergrad Nico Tangorra as Mom and Pop Bliss, with Kaitlyn Wehr and Kyle Fitzgerald as Sorel and Simon. Eliza Palumbo will play Jackie, with Alejandro Reya as Sandy, Gabriela Rivera as Myra, and MFA actor Colin Trevino-Odell as Richard. Lauren Sheffey will play Clara, the housekeeper, with an added character named Amy played by Nicole Greco.

Hay Fever plays in ISU's Westhoff Theatre from September 24 to 28. You can get more information here or go here to order tickets.

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