Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever” has nearly 100 years on its chronometer, but that doesn’t prevent it from benefiting from a 21st century overhaul, with creative direction and inspired (if occasionally over-the-top) performances.
Which is exactly what this vintage bundle from Britain receives from director Greg Cohen and his cast at Santa Ana’s Attic Community Theater.
The shift from drawing-room comedy to frantic farce may ruffle some purists, but the end result is a rousing evening of high hilarity.
The fun begins when each member of the Bliss family — the actress mother, novelist father and teenaged son and daughter who have been raised to flout convention — invites a visitor over for the weekend.
What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, as it turns out, with passions ignited and parlor games gone awry. The contrast between the theatrical hosts and their beguiled guests is in itself a quite watchable commodity, richly enhanced by some exceptional performances.
The centerpiece of this eclectic ensemble is the illustrious Jill Cary Martin, superb as the fading stage actress Judith, retired though not entirely of her own choosing. Her guest is a fawning young male admirer (Leigh-Bryce Hayes) whom she sees as a weekend boy toy.
The son and daughter do their utmost to steal the spotlight. Cora Riley’s Sorel is a mirror image of her mom and a captivating coquette, while A.J. Sclafani’s Simon hurls lethal verbal volleys and flits about the room like an animated Peter Pan, alighting on the most unconventional locations. (Cohen’s gifts as a master farceur are working overtime here.)
Rick Reischman ably enacts the novelist father David, though it’s unclear from Coward’s script whether he’s self-deprecating or stubbornly demanding, since he exhibits flourishes of both qualities. Amy Lipsey suffers admirably as the overburdened maid.
The visitors are played in a necessarily lower key, though they do get their licks in, primarily Lisa J. Salas, solid as Simon’s prospective lady love. Hayes also scores as a bashful, clean-cut admirer of the much-older Judith.
The phrase “silence is golden” plays out beautifully as the two shyest guests — Bob Beaumont as Sorel’s friend and Anne French as David’s — struggle to make conversation when they’re left alone just after their arrival. The dialogue-free segment approaches five expectant minutes.
Jim Huffman’s periodic 1920s set and lighting design nicely accommodate the creative confusion. The stage decorations by Kathy Paladino also set an effective tone.
While the meaning of the play’s title remains unclear, “Hay Fever” succeeds at the Attic with a combination of Coward’s wit and Cohen’s creativity. It’s an old dog that’s picked up some funny new tricks.
IF YOU GO
What: “Hay Fever”
Where: Attic Community Theater, 2834 S. Fairview St., Santa Ana (enter from Segerstrom Avenue)
When: Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. until Sept. 29
Information: (714) 662-2525; ocact.com