After finishing “Hay Fever,” Noel Coward fretted that it was “tedious.” In fact, as the superb South Coast Repertory revival clearly shows, this still-fresh 1925 comedy is about as tedious as a tornado.
What’s more, this frequently hilarious show is about something quite interesting: the positive and negative connotations of living one’s life in a free-spirited, childlike way.
Like children, the Blisses — a family of artists that the audience, along with four increasingly uncomfortable houseguests, get to know intimately over the course of a weekend in the country — are full of fun, spontaneity and creativity.
But also like children, they are self-centered, self-absorbed, easily distracted and hurt by short attention spans. Their “inner children” don’t only come out for nurturance now and then; they run the show.
It would be easy to idealize or harshly judge these people; Coward, wisely, does neither.
William Ludel’s production takes a while to warm up, but it ultimately proves immensely entertaining. As with his “The Man Who Came to Dinner” at SCR earlier this season, Ludel presents the play straight and in period; he inserts sight gags only when they fit naturally into the script.
The role of reluctantly retired stage star and family matriarch Judith Bliss doesn’t give the marvelous Kandis Chappell an opportunity to do what she does best: connect with an audience on a deep, emotional level. But she is great fun to watch as Judith goes through her repertoire of grand theatrical gestures.
The standout among the excellent ensemble cast is Richard Greatham, who plays one of four weekend houseguests, a diplomat who finds himself smitten with Judith.
Watching this dignified, careful man react to the bizarre goings-on — and attempt to join in the festivities — is a joy.
The same can be said for Ann Bruice’s flamboyant costumes for Judith, and Cliff Faulkner’s set, which turns the Bliss estate into an opulent world of art and flowers. He makes one want to live there — though, needless to say, not with this family.