Noel Coward’s delightful Hay Fever, the fourth production of Little Lake Theatre Company’s 70th anniversary season, opened this past evening to an audience filled with laughter.
This hilariously funny British comedy takes place in the home of David Bliss in Cookham, Berkshire, by the River Thames. He is a novelist of some repute and his wife Judith is a retired actress. They are looking forward to a quiet weekend at home. Good plan in theory, until they discover each has invited a house guest and their overly engaging adult children, Simon and Sorel appear with their guest list for the weekend as well. Coward sets this farce in motion with the initial premise of too many guests and not enough bedrooms. Communication is not a strong suit in this family! It quickly becomes apparent there are at least as many agendas as there are house guests. Like many of today’s modern sitcoms, the Bliss family members take great delight in getting each other spun up, and ratchet up each other with each passing comment and barb. Judith treats the weekend as her own private play with dramatic pronouncements and theatrical moments as she is the star! As the couples pair up in all the wrong combinations, this quiet weekend in the country becomes anything but.
Coward uses one of his favorite techniques to wrap up the production which fans of his other works will immediately recognize. By Coward’s own admission there are “few if any ‘witty’ lines” in Hay Fever, however the audience at Little Lake clearly disagreed as they enjoyed a laughingly good time of it. After all, nothing makes a better farcical comedy than a clueless dysfunctional family.
Veteran Little Lake director and actress Ponny Conomos Jahn has assembled an experienced cast of characters to play the four men and five women in Hay Fever. The women have the juicer roles here with the men, well mostly being clueless men, under the influence of strong yet zany women. Helga Terre’s Judith is a blend of Hepburn, Bacall and Broadway’s other leading ladies of a certain age. Her Judith can’t miss an opportunity to make an entrance or strike a pose in the best diva fashion. Being a native Australian, Terre lends just the right touch of the British Commonwealth to Judith’s character. Sorel, played well by Carina Iannarelli, is a whiny self-centered young woman, with that mother-daughter love-hate relationship with Judith.
In some ways, Elizabeth Glyptis’ character Jackie seems a plot necessity to round out the pairings. Jackie was invited up for the weekend by David Bliss (Joe Eberle) for reasons we can imagine, but he pays her no mind upon her arrival. Glyptis plays her as one who is clearly out of place in this environment. If there is such a thing as normal in this group of ladies, Myra as played by Rachel Pfenningwerth fits the bill. Her Myra exhibits more control of the situation, which she plays to her advantage as a glamorous modern woman of the flapper era.
There is a gem of a role in that of Clara, the housekeeper, who is played to perfection by Ina Block in her sixtieth role at Little Lake. If Judith treats the weekend as a performance, then Clara is the grumpy Stage Manager / Dresser of the Bliss’ house. Clara has “seen it all” from her employers and somehow keeps it all together and the house running with a remarkable lack of enthusiasm.
Let us not forget the men in the cast, who skillfully portray the hapless men who enable the aforementioned female characters: Joe Eberle as David Bliss, Brendan Krass as Simon, John Hermann as Richard and Dawson Labs as Sandy. Their performances are essential to the enjoyment of this farce.
Directing at Little Lake can at times be a bit like being an Air Traffic Controller. The actual performance space is quite compact and Hay Fever by necessity requires a good bit of furniture on set. Ponny Conomos Jahn does an excellent job of managing the movement all the while making sure all audience members in this in the round performance space have an opportunity to see what is going on. This in itself is no easy feat when there are nine actors on stage all engaged in elements of physical comedy. She manages line delivery to maintain a fast pace while allowing time for the situation to build to maximum absurdity. As a reviewer, in the round staging gives me the opportunity to see the audience’s reactions. In this case, they were enraptured with the performance and enjoyed the work of this Little Lake company.
Hay Fever features an impressive cast of experienced Pittsburgh area actors under Ponny Conomos Jahn’s well-executed direction. It’s well worth the trip for an evening of Noel Coward’s light-hearted wit and wisdom, still current nearly one hundred years after it was first performed.
Hay Fever at the Little Lake Theatre in Canonsburg is playing June 21st – 23rd, June 28th – July 1st, July 5th – 7th with performances Thurs., Fri., & Sat. @ 8 pm | Sun. @ 2 pm. For tickets https://www.artful.ly/littlelake/store/events/13781
Thanks to Little Lake for the complimentary tickets.
Photos courtesy of Little Lake Theatre
Categories: Archived Reviews