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Hay Fever

At the heart of the great English comedies of the first half of the Twentieth century are the manners of the upper classes. Shaw and Wilde thrived on lampooning these peculiar protocols, as did Noel Coward. Though not "born unto the manor," Coward adopted it as his home and was fully embraced by it, as is evident in Richard H. Pegg's splashy production of Hay Fever, for the Miners Alley Playhouse in downtown Golden.

Deborah Persoff as Judith and Verl Hite as Richard
Deborah Persoff as Judith
and Verl Hite as Richard
Pegg's toney scenic design filled with Ann Piano's scintillating period costumes is a sight to behold, especially the dinner-party chic in the middle act. Performed in the over-the-top style that Coward often employed, the production is as close as you'll ever see to the original, despite a qualitative variance in dialect and stylistic imitation in the ensemble.

The Bliss family—novelist David (Claude Diener) and actress Judith (Deborah Persoff), and their young adult children, Sorel (Misha Johnson) and Simon (Nathan Bock)—live an eccentric life in the countryside. Their isolation coupled with their compulsive verbosity and impulse for artistic license drives them all up the wall. Needing a break for the weekend, they separately invite guests, each a potential romantic entanglement. Let the farce begin!

Nathan Bock as Simon, Deborah Persoff as Judith, and Misha Johnson as Sorel
Nathan Bock as Simon,
Deborah Persoff as Judith,
and Misha Johnson as Sorel
Persoff, in the role of master thespian, sets the pace with a style that draws as much from dance as it does from melodrama, challenging her family (and fellow actors) to keep up with the repartee and artifice. They prove to be unequally outlandish in their own way.

Kendra Crain McGovern, back on the boards after a maternity absence, makes her entrance as, Myra, a seductive visitor from the American South, as charming as her honey-tipped dialect. Too worldly and sophisticated for Simon, who invited her, she finds herself tête-à-tête with David. Suave and cool as a cucumber, Diener's David woos Myra much as he writes, alternately playful and direct.

Leslie Randle Chapman as Jackie, Kendra Crain McGovern as Myra, Derby Thomas as Sandy, and Verl Hite as Richard
Leslie Randle Chapman as Jackie,
Kendra Crain McGovern as Myra,
Derby Thomas as Sandy,
and Verl Hite as Richard
Sorel is a vixen whose education at her mother's feet has paid off in spades: Men, young and old, are helpless around her. Johnson carries this off with aplomb, whether she's getting the argyle and plus-fours clad Sandy (Derby Thomas) hot and bothered or luring the ambassadorial Richard (Verl Hite) around for her mother.

Thomas brings a winsome innocence to the youthful lad, as he helplessly submits to closeted sessions with the feral Soral. For the older set, Hite mines the left-over repressions of post-Victorian culture, his Richard nervously flitting through progressively humid scenes with Persoff's vampy Judith.

Meanwhile, David's assignation, Jackie (Leslie Randle Chapman), has found her way into the arms of Simon, the virile presence that originally lured Myra to this pastoral island of dramatic hyperbole. Bock keeps an even keel with Simon's good-natured sniping of his family; Chapman infuses Jackie with pure astonishment, highlighting the humorous gap between normal bourgeois behavior and the goings on in this Blissful household. Even the droll maid, Clara (Peggy Miller), Judith's former dresser, is in on the game.

The artistic strengths of the production easily overcome a few scenes where the pace and satiric intensity flag, making this a pleasing confection on a hot summer's night. Miners Alley Playhouse's production of Hay Fever runs through September 7th. 303-935-3044.

Bob Bows

 

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