‘Hay Fever’ a funny clash of theater and regular folk
THE GAZETTE • Updated: May 17, 2007 at 12:00 am
Art imitates life in “Hay Fever,” the Star Bar Players’ season finale, opening today in the Lon Chaney Theatre. It’s based on Noel Coward’s stormy friendship with actress Laurette Taylor.
She was a Broadway star on the way down, almost as well known for her offstage histrionics as for her acting; he was a 21-year-old actor, playwright, and songwriter whose fame lay ahead. “On Sunday evenings we had cold supper and played games, often rather acrimonious games, owing to Laurette’s abrupt disapproval of any guest who turned out to be self-conscious, nervous, or unable to act an adverb or an historical personage with proper abandon,” wrote Coward in his memoirs. Three years later, Coward turned his experience into “Hay Fever.” The madcap comedy helped establish him as a major playwright. (Taylor said the family bore no relationship to hers — “None of us is ever unintentionally rude,” she said — and ended the friendship.) “It’s easily as funny as his better-known plays,” said Mark Hennessy, producer of the Star Bar production.
The set-up is the classic weekend in the country, in which the guests get something much different than they expected. What makes the play resonate 83 years later is its conflict of worlds, said Hennessy — in this case the worlds of theater people and regular people. “Nothing really real happens. There are emotions bouncing off the wall, there’s dripping sarcasm and there’s a tremendous amount of stuff going on, but it all adds up to nothing. It’s a theater family, and to them it’s all a play. “The problem is that the four people invited down for the weekend are not aware of this.” Coward said the play was one of his most difficult to perform, because its punchlines are often nontraditional — lines such as “Go on” and “No there isn’t, is there?” “You have to know where they are, and you have to deliver them correctly,” director Sandra Womochil Bray said. But Bray says her cast is up to it — especially Amy Brooks, who plays Judith Bliss, the Laurette Taylor character. “It’s an ensemble piece, but Amy’s got the lion’s share,” said Bray. “Amy has the gift of getting right to the heart of the character.” Other cast members include Matthew Newton and Shannon McMillan — who have performed at the Fine Arts Center but not at Star Bar. Hennessy sees this as a sign of the community’s growing respect for Star Bar. “It’s a lot of people we haven’t gotten onstage before.” Bray said the production says a lot about the Star Bar Players’ artistic stature. “It’s not easy, it has a big set, it’s a period piece, and we have no real budget,” she said. “But it’s going to work beautifully.”
by MARK ARNEST