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The laughter is contagious at TheatreVirginia's "Hay Fever."

Nothing to Sneeze At


"Hay Fever"
Through April 24

In "Hay Fever," TheatreVirginia's handsome production of the No‰l Coward classic, a family of self-centered artistic types play emotional Ping-Pong with their houseguests. If the play were written today, the family members would get their comeuppance and some moral would be thrust upon us. But apparently playwrights had more courage in the 1920s because Coward kept his story blissfully free of conscience and political correctness. A lack of moral fiber has kept this droll comedy fresh; it is as biting and saucy as it must have been 70 years ago. As directed by Artistic Director George Black, TVA's lively production is always amusing and often hilarious.

Most audacious in this family of miscreants is the mother of the clan, Judith Bliss (Dorothy Stanley). A retired veteran of the stage, Judith still lives her life as if she's in front of an audience, prompting her daughter, Sorel (Kathleen Heenan), to plead with her to "be normal." Sorel is the most balanced member of the family, primarily because she is most aware of how rude they all are. She would like to change their behavior, but she is confounded by her impertinent brother, Simon (Kevin Kraft), and inattentive father, David (Michael Goodwin).

"Hay Fever's" misadventures begin when each of the Blisses invites a guest for the weekend to the family's opulent house outside of London (a wonderfully appointed set by Emily Beck). Each family member seems to have romantic designs on their own guest but, before long, much mixing and rematching occurs, and it's not clear who will end up with whom. Lost in the shuffle are the bewildered guests who never know whether the goings-on are real or a charade.

The pace of the first act is a bit languorous, but don't let it fool you. This is a play that builds momentum slowly so that by the end of the second of three acts, the laughs are coming fast and furious. As the overly dramatic Judith, Stanley has the most opportunities to shine and she takes full advantage of each. She gets some fine help from Brent Harris as the diplomat Richard Greatham. Harris plays a refined English gentleman who is wrapped way too tight. Watching him try not to burst in the face of the Bliss family lunacy is a treat. Jana Thompson also scores some comic points as Jackie Coryton, a somewhat dimwitted flapper who spends most of the play thoroughly befuddled by the clever conversation and emotional gamesmanship.

One of the quintessential drawing room comedies, "Hay Fever" is distinctly British, so expect to hear the words "awfully" and "rather" (pronounced raw-thuh) a lot. Sorel says late in the play, "We none of us mean anything at all," and certainly there is not any deep meaning to be garnered from this play. "Hay Fever" is "a feather bed of false emotions," as another character says. And that may be so. But it is a comfortable and satisfying bed, full of light wit and broad appeal. You owe it to yourself to lie down in it this

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