Review: 'Fever' cast's energy spills into audience
THE GAZETTE • Updated: May 25, 2007 at 12:00 am
If one could live on bubbles, “Hay Fever” would be a feast. The Star Bar Players’ effervescent production of Noel Coward’s comedy comes to an end almost too soon — and long before a hankering for anything nourishing sets in.
Set in the 1920s, the action takes place over a short weekend at the Blisses’ English country home. Each of the family members has, unbeknownst to the others, invited a guest. All the guests come hoping for a little adventure — and end up getting far more than they’d bargained for. That’s because the Blisses are a stage family — the mother, Judith, is a recently retired actress — and can’t resist the urge to overdramatize everything. An innocent peck on the cheek becomes an affair; a walk in the garden becomes an engagement. Don’t miss Amy Brooks’ performance as Judith. You’re never sure whether Judith believes what she says, but Brooks says it with a sense of habitual grandeur. She also shows off one of the region’s most expressive faces, getting laughs with a mere change of expression during a bit about a perambulator.
But Brooks doesn’t have to carry the show. Each of the nine cast members gives an superb performance for director Sandra Womochil Bray. As Judith’s novelist husband David, Rick Gibson is properly soft-edged; he’s so used to creating characters that he’s not really anyone himself. As the almost-adult children Sorel and Simon, Saskia Kesners and Matthew Gerard Spurlock are portraits of energetic immaturity. Kesners’ Amanda is the play’s crucial swing character — aware of how strange her family seems to outsiders, yet unable to resist the lure of a good scene. And the four make a convincing family, especially in an argument about Parisian streets that’s so sublimely trivial that it must have been transcribed from life. Matthew Newton has appeared in many local productions — most recently the Fine Arts Center’s production of “1940s Radio Hour” — but he’s never given a more perfectly nuanced performance. As the diplomat Richard, Newton keeps the emotions dancing just below the surface most of the time — and when one finally does reach the surface, it’s panic. It’s hard to take your eyes off Shannon McMillan’s stylishly vampish Myra — and anyway, Myra wouldn’t want you to. Amanda Gaden is a bundle of squeaky nerves as Jackie, the shy flapper. Kenny Knapp is never more than a moment from bewilderment as Sandy, the boxer. JaNae Stansbery radiates sullen efficiency as Clara, the Cockney maid. Clara may be rude, but without her, the Blisses would probably die.
Patrick Lively’s drawing room is the most elaborate Star Bar set in many a year, and Sam Gleason’s period costumes are just the right finishing touch. “Hay Fever” requires a little faith from its audience. It’s a slow starter, and it took me a few minutes to get used to the English accents. But Act 2 is brilliant, and the climax of the brief third act — I won’t spoil it — has to be seen to be believed.
by MARK ARNEST