On Theater: Noel Coward's 'Hay Fever' is at WCT

If there ever were such a thing as a truly symmetrical play, Noel Coward discovered it back in 1925 when he wrote the whimsical but witty comedy "Hay Fever."

This hastily written (Coward penned it in three days) satire — inspired by some of the playwright's friends at the time — has aged gracefully, and is revived periodically by community theater groups. Its latest incarnation is on view at the Westminster Community Theatre.

The central characters are a free-spirited family of four — a "retired" but still quite theatrical actress, her intellectual novelist husband and their semi-bohemian grown son and daughter — each of whom easily could invite a guest for the weekend without telling the other three.

This, of course, is exactly what happens, and the first act is spent chuckling at the visitors' discomfort with the situation. Then in the second act, the eight get together for a highly unsuccessful word game before pairing off for a round of romantic mixed doubles.

There's a good deal of comedic characterization in director Patricia Miller's enjoyable, though occasionally erratic, production. Two performances in particular ascend above the ensemble.

These are rendered by the statuesque and strikingly attractive Abbey Bolin as the family's ultra-sophisticated daughter, who mimics her mother's overt theatricality beautifully, and Peggy Free, also tall and scorpion-tongued, who dispatches would-be suitors with the flourish of a matador.

The queen bee of the manor — whose long blond wig in the first act is replaced by a short red number in the second — is portrayed by Kip Hogan, one of Orange County's finer character actresses, who seems a bit unsettled in this assignment. Her bookish husband, played by David Kramer, grows appreciatively in his performance.

Brandon Ferruccio and Ernesto Vazquez-Belen are virtually interchangeable in their assignments of the son and his mother's admirer, respectively. Both project callow youthfulness splendidly.

The other two, both guests and improbably paired, are interpreted by Wade Wooldridge and Nicole Blume. Coward seem to have spent so much time forming the other six he had little time or interest to flesh out their characters.

There is a ninth character, and Gwen Wooldridge takes full advantage of the playwright's penchant for illuminating servants' roles. She plays the doddering old retainer beautifully, stressing her individuality.

"Hay Fever" will never approach the level of "Private Lives" in the Coward canon, but it's a nicely turned comedy of manners and morals that plays out quite winningly at the Westminster Community Theater.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Huntington Beach Independent.

If You Go

What: "Hay Fever"

Where: Westminster Community Theatre, 7272 Maple St., Westminster.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 24

Cost: $16-$18

Call: (714) 527-5546

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