If you didn’t know that Noël Coward was an actor as well as a playwright, you’d figure it out within minutes of seeing any of his plays: how else to account for the nearly limitless opportunities they provide for chewing the scenery? Entering fully into the Cowardly spirit, director Terry McCabe frees his Hay Fever cast to emote, pose, posture, and indicate to their hearts’ content. The result is precisely what Coward envisioned when he subtitled the piece “a comedy of bad manners”: a perfectly-wrought piece of early 20th-century snobbish entertainment.
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Hay Fever Through 10/9: Fri-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM; also Mon 9/26 and 10/3, 7:30 PM; City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, 773-293-3682, citylit.org, $34 ($29 seniors, $12 students and military)
Coward plays also pit Cool Kids breezily indifferent to convention against hapless Normies, and Hay Fever is no exception. Stephen Sondheim’s “Weekend in the Country” from A Little Night Music has nothing on the one at chez Bliss, where every member of the artsy family has invited a potential romantic partner without warning to each other or to Clara, the senescent maid riotously embodied by marssie Mencotti. On Ray Toler’s splendidly overstuffed set dripping with interwar tchotchkes, including a stuffed boar’s head with tassels, these nine people change partners and dance at the speed of the Charleston, as befits 1925. Despite the tiny playing space, McCabe manages to supply each member of the cast with room to roam, doors to slam, and couches to pretend to faint on. He also balances the sympathies expertly, so we’re simultaneously under the Cool Kids’ spell and rooting for the Normies to escape with what’s left of their dignity.
The show is silly fluff—nothing more. But consider how woefully short of fun we’ve been, and for how long, and go enjoy!