‘Hay Fever’ Brings On Infectious Laughter
The “Hay Fever” at A Noise Within is extremely catching. Only very somber people will fail to succumb to Art Manke’s sumptuous revival of Noel Coward’s perfectly frivolous comedy.
This is the one about a ‘20s family of self-dramatizing artists and their hapless house guests, all thrown together for one mad weekend in the country. Manke and company nail the laughs time after time.
Indeed, in tandem with the company’s other current show, Danny Scheie’s ingenious staging of “The Comedy of Errors,” the noise at A Noise Within is more likely to be laughter--contagious and carefree--than at any other point in the Glendale company’s decade of productions.
Jenna Cole plays the queen bee, Judith Bliss, with unerring timing and style, not surprising to those who saw her in A Noise Within’s previous foray into Coward, “Design for Living” in 1997.
Although she has supposedly retired from the stage in favor of domestic bliss, Judith has turned her home into her new stage. Wearing blond curls in an attempt to look almost as young as her daughter, shambling about the garden in yellow chiffon--and galoshes--wielding a fan as if it were a blunt instrument, Cole is truly ready for her close-up. She has brought home a cheerfully ignorant young lug (Brian McGovern) to pay her homage for the weekend, neglecting to mention that her husband is still around.
Eagle-eyed Mitchell Edmonds plays the husband, a hack novelist who is obsessed with his latest opus but also remains a keen observer of the other members of his clan. He doesn’t much mind Judith’s flirtations, for he enjoys playing the same game. He has invited a gawky flapper (Heidi Tokheim) for the weekend, but he soon finds a more tempting target in the form of the self-satisfied siren Myra (Ann Marie Lee).
Manke has found a delicious moment in which Cole and Edmonds squabble literally over the head of the much shorter Lee, moving the prominent plume of her hat out of the way of their barbs.
Myra is ostensibly the guest of the much younger Simon, the Bliss son, a dilettante not only in his art but also in his life. Lars Carlson pulls off the difficult task of making Simon a randy pursuer of an older woman one moment and a mama’s boy the next.
Statuesque Abby Craden, her face a transparent canvas for every pout that runs through her brain, plays the Bliss daughter Sorel, who has invited a tweedy diplomat (Robertson Dean, magnificently repressed) for the weekend in a pathetic attempt to rise above her flamboyant family. As soon as she starts a raucous round of play-acting with her mother, we can see that the diplomat and Sorel’s social climbing are both doomed.
Catering to the Bliss whims is crotchety Marnie Crossen as Judith’s dresser turned maid, whose years backstage have failed to teach her much about makeup.
The Blisses frequently primp in front of an invisible mirror that’s front and center, displaying their vanity to most of the audience as often as possible. Manke also created a wordless running sight gag based on the script’s suggestion that one of the breakfast items is less than delectable.
The parlor, designed by Thomas Buderwitz, is awash in color, pattern and detail, befitting such an overstated crowd, and Mary Vogt’s costumes make the ‘20s look like the most intoxicating decade. Note Simon’s iridescent brownish-greenish dressing gown--or just about any other detail in this lustrously appointed comedy.
* “Hay Fever,” A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Today and Thursday, May 3, 4, 11, 23, 24, 8 p.m.; May 12, 2 and 8 p.m.; April 29, May 20, 2 and 7 p.m. Ends May 24. $16 to $40. (323) 953-7795. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.
Jenna Cole: Judith Bliss
Mitchell Edmonds: David Bliss
Abby Craden: Sorel Bliss
Lars Carlson: Simon Bliss
Ann Marie Lee: Myra Arundel
Robertson Dean: Richard Greatham
Heidi Tokheim: Jackie Coryton
Brian McGovern: Sandy Tyrell
Marnie Crossen: Clara
Written by Noel Coward. Directed by Art Manke. Set by Thomas Buderwitz. Costumes by Mary Vogt. Lighting by Rand Ryan. Wigs/hair design by Joyce Ann Littrell. Stage manager Peter Feldman.