The Wellesley Summer Theatre is just about the only location this spring where HAY FEVER is good for you. Noel Coward’s delicious, high maintenance comedy of bad manners is galloping through June 22nd. Mind you, putting all the cogs in place for the non-stop laughter to come takes some time in Act I but once the machinery is in gear for Act II, HAY FEVER runs full throttle and you’re rewarded for sticking out the slow start.
Coward’s wacky family thrives on chaos and drama, in ample supply when too many guests start stacking up in the living room. Without telling anyone, each member of the Bliss family has invited a promising prospect for a romantic weekend, hoping to impress with a lavish guest room, servants, a lake and a boat. While each of the four is furious at not being consulted, we profit fourfold from the additional opportunities for mayhem. Someone will have to sleep in the boiler room. There may not be enough food and there certainly aren’t enough servants.
Director Marta Reiner’s actors, for the most part, keep Coward’s lush, haughty language in proper play: His witty repartee is meant to be batted about like shuttlecocks in a high class, verbal badminton game. And the Blisses do love games. Mother can be forgiven for being a bit theatrical since she actually enjoyed a career on the stage …and father writes novels, which really doesn’t explain why each is planning a tryst which doesn’t involve the other! Charlotte Peed is divine as the self-absorbed actress who longs to return to the theater and John Davin is hilarious, especially when perched on his high horse. The two of them carry on as if they don’t notice the other.
Their daughter, Sorel, whom mother calls the “vigorous ingénue,” is portrayed with ferocious deadpan by Sarah Barton, as if she, too, is oblivious of their eccentricities. Her brother, Simon (the frenetically intense Will Keary) tends to go off the deep end in pursuit of a fiancé, any fiancé. Why Coward refrained from penning “Don’t quarrel, Sorel” when he argues with his sister, is beyond me. (The “quibbling Sybil” arrived later, of course, with PRIVATE LIVES).
The best laugh in the play is supplied by Danny Bolton as the “diplomatist” who can’t decide whom to pursue: I’m hard pressed to think of anything funnier than a miserable, sopping wet Bolton! Elisabeth Yancey is charming as the constantly confused “secretary” father has sent for and Catherine Piner grumbles amusingly as the maid but it’s Angela Bilkic who runs away with the show as the acerbic, drop dead gorgeous invitee who’s nobody’s fool.