Peggy Sue Dunigan

There will be tiptoeing at some point in the play

By - Aug 11th, 2009 04:13 pm
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Brian Mani and Carey Cannon in Hay Fever, 2009. (Photo by Zane Williams)

Now Playing: Hay Fever by Noel Coward
Producer: American Players Theatre
Director: William Brown
Show length: unknown

On a humid August night in Spring Green, more than the weather was steaming with sophistication at American Player’s Theatre. The opening night production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever riveted the audience with the Bliss family antics in this entertaining comedy of manners.

An icon of celebrity and talent from the 1920’s onward, Coward wrote this play in three days during 1924 based on autobiographical experiences when he spent time at the New York estate of American actress Laurette Taylor and Hartley Manners together with their two children. Coward modeled the Hay Fever’s Bliss family after these real life eccentric personalities.

Because this play portrays the Bliss’s rude mannerisms and high opinions of themselves, Coward ultimately presents the stage tribute to his friends with humorous affection. In spite of the family’s oddness and their “potty” activities on one summer weekend filled with unwanted guests, the scenes embrace a lovability, much as The Simpson’s appeal to contemporary audiences. The Bliss family might actually exemplify what many audience members would like to be and do if they allowed themselves to let go, even while hosting weekend guests.

This simple premise of “errant” hospitality, which refers to notorious lack of moderation, requires a skill to pull off. Coward himself stated in an issue of Play Party that the play may appear easy to produce because of a limited cast set. Yet he quotes, “To begin with, it has no plot at all, and remarkably little action. Its general effectiveness therefore depends on expert technique from each and every member of the cast.”

So APT’s superb cast cleverly demonstrated this principle. Set on a lush stage designed by Nayna Ramey, the stage’s summer garden is filled with topiaries, ivy trellises and expansive ferns which enrich a tasteful chinoiserie railing along with rattan and wicker furniture that were so popular in the ‘20’s.

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Andy Truschinski and Tiffany Scott in Hay Fever, 2009. (Photo by Zane Williams)

Rachel Anne Healy’s elegant period costumes, constructed in lavender, candy pinks, furs and fringes, contributes to a stylish production with fashionable flair. The luxurious attire of Myra Arundei’s character uses feathered furs, which contrasts against the formal tuxedoes and flowing satins dressing the rest of the cast.

What else could be said of a company where the comic pauses, silences, and affection reveal exquisite nuances to the playwright’s intent and adds power to the dialogue’s delivery? Delightfully over the top, Tracy Michelle Arnold carries Judith Bliss with all her age anxieties, professional regrets, and parental tribulations with amazing assurance. Even a slight stage mishap that evening afforded her an opportunity for her to ad-lib with gracious wit.

The rest of the cast fulfills a role to Coward’s inspiration for “expert technique” in ensuring the play’s success. This includes a quirky cameo of Colleen Madden (Clara). Susan Shunk (Jackie Cloyton) brings a vibrancy by giving the ingénue warmth and charm. All members this night were charming for almost three hours on a hot summer evening. The night flew by, even as a real bird flew through the lovely artificial garden setting on this particular staging. The audience embraced the APT production as Coward’s dialogue “falls a victim to the atmosphere….when someone heard a cuckoo ….where even cuckoos are charming for a little bit.”

American Players Theatre presents Noel Coward’s Hayfever until October 3. For information: www.playinthewoods.org or 608.588.2362. Ticketing information and venue details can always be found at Footlights Milwaukee.

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