Stanford Repertory Theater
The Bliss family, played by, foreground, from left, Bruce Carlton as David, Courtney Walsh as Judith, Kiki Bagger as Sorel and Austin Caldwell as Simon, bickers as their guests, from left, Rush Rehm as Richard, Deb Fink as Myra, Kathleen Kelso as Jackie and Andre Amarotico as Sandy quietly steal away in Stanford Repertory Theater’s production of Noël Coward’s ‘Hay Fever.’
Whether the Bliss family represents that state of mind depends entirely on whether one is an insider or outsider. That’s apparent in Noël Coward’s frothy comedy, “Hay Fever,” presented by Stanford Repertory Theater.
Perhaps a more appropriate name for the family might be the Bickersons because bickering seems to be the favorite sport of all four Blisses. Overdramatizing is another.
These sports come to light one weekend when, unknown to the rest of the family, each Bliss invites someone of the opposite sex to visit.
The bickering begins even before the first guest arrives as young adult siblings Sorel (Kiki Bagger) and Simon (Austin Caldwell) go at it.
As the play continues, everyone gets in on the act, especially their mother, Judith (Courtney Walsh), a retired actress who still delights in dramatic behavior. Their father, David (Bruce Carlton), a novelist, joins in.
Judith’s guest is young admirer Sandy (Andre Amarotico). Simon has invited the older Myra (Deb Fink), while David has invited the younger Jackie (Kathleen Kelso). Completing the list is Sorel’s older guest, Richard (Rush Rehm), a diplomat.
As each guest arrives, the family’s maid, Clara (Catherine Luedtke), merely opens the door and walks away, giving the guest a preview of the bad manners that lie ahead. The guests then find themselves ignored or seduced. Each family member seems properly indignant about such indiscretions.
The play is loaded with amusing scenes, such as an after-dinner game and Richard’s attempts at conversation with Jackie.
For the most part, director Lynne Soffer’s cast does well with Coward’s often subtle wit. Bagger and Caldwell as the Bliss siblings got the first act off to a rocky start on opening night with Bagger’s English accent difficult to understand. She improved after that, though.
At other times, various cast members didn’t wait for laughter to subside before their next lines. However, this was their first performance before an audience. They hadn’t had a preview to refine their performances.
Nevertheless, the show delivered an ample share of laughs from both the over-the-top antics of the Blisses, especially Walsh as Judith, and the guests’ increasing discomfort.
In her program notes, director Soffer gives “a tip o’ the hat to Nagle Jackson for his inspiration.” Jackson directed the hugely popular American Conservatory Theater production of “Hay Fever” in 1979 and 1980.
Soffer told me at intermission that she was using a sight gag that had worked so well for ACT in the Act 3 breakfast scene. It worked again here.
Running just over two hours with one intermission, “Hay Fever” is the centerpiece of SRT’s summer festival, “Noël Coward: Art, Style and Decadence.” It includes a cabaret show, “Cowardy Custard,” a film series and a symposium.
“Hay Fever” runs through Aug. 9 in Stanford’s Pigott Theater, Memorial Auditorium (Memorial Way and Galvez). Tickets and information about the play and other festival events are available by visiting www.repertorytheater.Stanford.edu or calling (650) 725-5838.