Theater Review: Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever” at Northeast Stage

Photo by Katharine Schroeder | "Hay Fever" continues at Northeast Stage Nov. 15, 16 and 17.

Photo by Katharine Schroeder | “Hay Fever” continues at Northeast Stage Nov. 15, 16 and 17.

Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever,” a farcical comedy of manners written in 1924 and set in an English country house, may not be one of the playwright’s most popular works, but it certainly seems to be an oft-produced one. Since its 1925 London debut, it has enjoyed numerous revivals, including two on Broadway. Northeast Stage adds to this mix its own take on the Coward comedy, presented over two weekends at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Greenport.

The plot is exactly what one would expect from the cheeky author of such plays as “Blithe Spirit” and “Private Lives.” The Bliss family has hunkered down in its country home, much to the dismay of the lady of the house, recently retired stage diva Judith. Her adult children, Simon and Sorel, enjoy the undemanding lifestyle afforded the offspring of wealth. Simon dabbles in painting and women but Sorel bemoans how unpleasant her family is and wants to become more “normal,” wishing she were working and on her own with no one to answer to. Their father, David, is off upstairs somewhere writing his latest novel.

Every member of the Bliss family, to the others’ chagrin, has invited a guest for this particular weekend, each expecting some quiet quality time with said guest. The doubling of the household, of course, ensures none of that will be had.

Sorel is expecting diplomat Richard Greatham, on whom she has designs. Judith’s guest is Sandy, an enthusiastic fan and strapping young sportsman ready to feed her ego. It is clear why Judith has invited him, as well as why Simon has invited the older yet seductive Myra Arundel. Unclear, however, are the motives of David’s invitation to Jackie Coryton. Once all the guests arrive, however, awkwardness and unexpected pairings ensue.

Director James Pritchard has adapted Coward’s piece to modern-day Peconic. This does not quite do justice to the material, which is so much of a particular time and place. References to nearby locales and substitutions of a few contemporary colloquialisms can be a bit jarring in contrast to the language, tone and rhythm of the rest of the play. Despite this the cast, fully committed to the concept, does a fi ne, high-energy job with this adaptation and Mr. Pritchard keeps the pacing lively.

A.D. Newcomer is coy and petulant as Sorel, and Andrew Benjamin, as Simon, is convincing as a young man in love with love. Tara O’Shea portrays Clara, Judith’s former dresser, now maid. In unexplained carpal tunnel gloves and boot cast, she observes the family’s behavior and expresses volumes of inner judgment with her expressive face.

Robert Wesson is one of the few actors who is physically perfect for his role as Sandy, Judith’s studly fan. Jim Pearsall, as David, lines out a distracted author quite well. Suzette Reiss as Myra and Beverly Gregory as Jackie do fi ne jobs as devious temptress and clueless dingbat, respectively.

Bob Kaplan brings his considerable comedic talents to the role of Richard Greatham, and his scene alone with Judith is hilarious — a highlight of the show.

But ultimately, this show is Mary Vien neau’s to make or break. As Judith, she plays the grande dame to absolute perfection. Every movement, as large as it could be, is subtly underlined with the true motive behind it. Even while Judith is “acting out,” we can see her inner workings grinding away. Ms. Vienneau turns in a nuanced, professional performance that is alone worth the price of the ticket.

Mr. Pritchard’s set was clearly done with the talented artist’s eye and hand. The small stage presented limitations, but he designed it with effi cient use of the space, and it is perfectly convincing as the lovely country home of a wealthy family.

Noel Coward once instructed, “Just say the lines and don’t trip over the furniture.” Happily, this cast does so much more than that with their satisfying and very funny performance. Don’t miss your last chance to see it this weekend.

“Hay Fever” presented by Northeast Stage at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 768 Main St., Greenport. Performances continues 16 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. Tickets: $15. Call 631-765-1409 or email PritchArt@aol.com.