If my family and friends are any judge, the real world looks upon theater people with, to put it charitably, a wary eye. The situation would be unsupportable — if theater people themselves didn’t have an even lower opinion. If you ever wanna hear real invective, get a bottle of vodka as bait and ask playwrights about actors, actors about directors, or directors about pretty much anybody but themselves. It won’t be pretty, but I guarantee you it’ll be entertaining. And never more so than in Noel Coward’s classic 1924 screwed-up-theater-people comedy Hay Fever.
There’s divas … and then there’s Judith Bliss, a leading light on the London stage, now semi-retired with her family to the country manse. Incapable of expressing any emotion which doesn’t reach the last row of the balcony, Judith now plays the “squire’s wife” with her usual flair; her problem is that she still needs an audience. For the weekend, she’s invited down one of the many besotted young men who’ve haunted the stage door of the great Judith Bliss.
This plan doesn’t necessarily bother her husband, David, since he has, in fact, invited a young woman for his own purposes. Meanwhile, son Simon and daughter Sorel have invited their own prospective mates, and the quiet weekend is now two days of the Blisses, their outrageous egos and increasingly irritated guests.
To keep the play frothy and light, Coward has brilliantly imbued the family with a dizzy innocence. Despite how overbearing they all are, it’s impossible not to love the Blisses, because they are so sincere in their seeming insincerity; they are what they are (self-indulgent hams) and assume everyone else is as well. Coward, and the audience, have a great deal of fun watching the battle between their sophistication and their naiveté.
The South Park Theater production gets some of this right. The big moments are rightly played for laughs, but nuance doesn’t really make an appearance. That’s unfortunate: It isn’t just Coward’s plot that’s funny, it’s his dialogue as well, and that gets lost in the show’s bombast. Coward’s specific style seems beyond a few of the performers, but I did appreciate the work of Brittany Andrews, Johnny Terreri, Bethany Kohl and Joey Yow.
Hay Fever continues through Aug. 12. South Park Theater, Corrigan Drive and Brownsville Road, South Park. 412-831-8552