Review: ‘Hay Fever’

If you like your Noel Coward without an ounce of subtlety, the Westport Country Playhouse has opened its summer season with a real treat for you -- Darko Tresnjak's bulldozer production of the young Coward's 1925 comedy of bad manners, "Hay Fever." Here's a production that gives overacting a bad name. Even the wigs are out of control.

If you like your Noel Coward without an ounce of subtlety, the Westport Country Playhouse has opened its 73rd summer season with a real treat for you — Darko Tresnjak’s bulldozer production of the young Coward’s 1925 comedy of bad manners, “Hay Fever.” Here’s a production that gives overacting a bad name. Even the wigs are out of control.

Many of the actors in Tresnjak’s production have proved themselves capable elsewhere, but here virtually everyone poses and flounces unmercifully.

Tessa Auberjonois is out of her depth as Myra Arundel, even though her wig, a black Louise Brooks number, is civilized. On the other hand, the wig worn by galumphing Denny Dillon as the dresser-housekeeper Clara looks as though it’s just escaped from an asylum. And speaking of hair, just what is the bird-wing hairdo on Jack Gilpin as novelist-father David Bliss all about?

Then there are the so-called English accents. Only one sounds even remotely natural, Austin Lysy’s as Simon Bliss, the spoiled-brat son of the terminally thoughtless, theatrically bohemian Bliss family, in whose English country home four guests barely survive a rainy weekend from hell. The accent of Sarah Hudnut as Simon’s sister, Sorel, is so labored that it renders her opening lines incomprehensible.

As is well known, Coward was inspired to write this play after attending parties at the New York home of actress Laurette Taylor and her playwright-husband, Hartley Manners. Taylor was not amused by the play, and if ever there were a production to justify her displeasure, this is it.

As retired actress Judith Bliss (alias Taylor), Amy Van Nostrand is all flyaway hair and mannerisms, the leader of a litany of tics, rantings and over-enthusiasms from almost the entire cast.

The set is surely too dark, dreary and suburban for the lively Blisses, and there’s so much furniture on the small stage that there’s little space for any reasonable blocking. Some of Linda Cho’s costumes, notably the bias-cut evening gowns, are fun, though some of the other ensembles seem out-of-season given the apparent warm weather in nearby London.

Hay Fever

Westport Country Playhouse, Westport, Conn.; 707 seats; $55 top

Production

A Westport Country Playhouse presentation of a play in three acts by Noel Coward. Directed by Darko Tresnjak.

Creative

Set, David P. Gordon; costumes, Linda Cho; lighting, Christopher Landy; sound, Jerry Yager; production manager, Ruth Moe; stage manager, Barclay Stiff. Westport Country Playhouse artistic director, Joanne Woodward. Opened June 6, 2003. Reviewed June 16. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.

Cast

Sorel Bliss - Sarah Hudnut Simon Bliss - Austin Lysy Clara - Denny Dillon Judith Bliss - Amy Van Nostrand David Bliss - Jack Gilpin Sandy Tyrell - Timothy Carter Myra Arundel - Tessa Auberjonois Richard Greatham - Robert Stanton Jackie Coryton - Arden Myrin

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