Eccentric families have long been a source of humor for popular entertainments from TV’s Addams Family to film’s Royal Tenenbaums. Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It with You may be the preeminent stage production on the subject and is one of the most produced plays since its premiere in 1936, but Noël Coward beat them to the punch a decade earlier with Hay Fever. The Raven Players bring Coward’s Bliss family to the Raven Performing Arts Theater’s stage in a production that runs through May 28.
Meet the Bliss family: Father David (Steven David Martin) is a novelist hard at work on his latest tome. Mother Judith (Ashley Kennedy) is a recently-retired stage star contemplating a return to the theater. Adult siblings Sorel (Aimee Drew) and Simon (Troy Thomas Evans) banter with each other while lounging around the estate.
With amorous intentions on their minds and unbeknownst to the other, each family member has invited a guest for the weekend, much to the consternation of harried housekeeper Clara (Beneicka Brown). Sandy Tyrell (Bohn Connor), a pugilist-in-training and admirer of Judith’s, is the first to arrive. Richard Greatham (Matt Farrell), a “diplomatist” with whom Sorel is taken, arrives with Jackie Coryton (Kate Edery) who David has invited to interview for his book. Socialite Myra Arundel (Jeanette Seisdedos), Simon’s invitee, is the last to arrive.
The weekend leads to couplings and de-couplings and re-couplings before the guests all come to the same conclusion – the Blisses are all too in love with themselves to have time for anyone else. Exit, stage right.
Director Katie Watts-Whitaker has a good ensemble at work here. The material is slight and there really isn’t much of a plot, so it’s all about the characters and each cast member does well with theirs. Drew gives the most grounded performance as Sorel, while Connor gives an intricate physical performance as the brawny boxer. Evans’s spoiled Simon, Kennedy’s flighty Judith, Farrell’s befuddled Richard, Martin’s pompous David, Edery’s confused Jackie, and Seisdedos’s scheming Myra aren’t the most sympathetic of folk with which an audience can identify, but there’s always Brown’s put-upon housekeeper (even if she makes lousy haddock.)
Hay Fever is the kind of show where you end up laughing at people and not really with them. It’s a comedy of self-centeredness and egotism. What a relief to know that since its premiere almost 100 years ago that those kinds of people no longer exist.
‘Hay Fever’ runs through May 28 at the Raven Performing Arts Theater, 115 North St., Healdsburg. Thursday–Saturday, 7:30 pm; Sunday, 2 pm. $10–$25. 707.433.6335. raventheater.org
Photos by Ray Mabry
This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian and Healdsburg Tribune.