Vagabonds' 'Hay Fever' proves to be a comedy that's simply Bliss-ful

May 30, 1991|By J. Wynn Rousuck

The Vagabond Players is wrapping up its 75th anniversar season with a production of Noel Coward's "Hay Fever" that's nothing to sneeze at. If anything, it could be contagious.

The Vagabonds' third stab at "Hay Fever" since 1929, the current production combines Coward's wit with a delightful sense of physical comedy, under the direction of Carol Mason.

Loosely based on the young Coward's visits to the household of the great stage star Laurette Taylor, the play is set at the country home of an eccentric retired actress named Judith Bliss. Without consulting each other, Judith, her novelist husband and their two grown children have each invited guests for the weekend.

Although the family members grouse about the number of guests, it's difficult to imagine how they manage without an invited audience. Following the lead of the actress matriarch, the Blisses are almost always "on."

And, what better opportunity to perform their mischief than the sudden arrival of four guests who barely know their hosts, much less each other? Like a game of romantic musical chairs, soon the Blisses are flirting with each other's guests and scaring them half out of their wits with melodramatic propositions.

Judith, of course, is the in-house professional, the master of melodrama, and much of the success of "Hay Fever" rests on her portrayal. The trick is for the audience to find Judith hilarious, but for the actress playing her to be in deadly earnest. Ann Shroads succeeds at this delicate task by displaying just enough grande-dame theatrics to be credible without being ludicrous.

Apparently, Judith's family has learned from her example. No sooner do they make light of her histrionics than they launch into their own. When Stan Weiman, as Judith's husband, stages an extra-marital scene, he's merely demonstrating his similarity to his wife.

And as to Amy Whelan and Robert Petr as the Bliss offspring, well, if their parents consider them rude, suffice it to say that these actors are astute mimics of their elders; they make it undeniably clear that the young Blisses acquired their man

ners at home.

The Blisses' guests are also a hoot, particularly Maria McIntosh as a bubble-headed flapper and Craig A. Peddicord as a stuffy diplomat.

Early on, Judith's daughter worries that her house guest will find a weekend with the Blisses boring. Needless to say, it turns out to be anything but -- for the guest and the Vagabonds audience.

"Hay Fever" continues at the Vagabond Players weekends through June 16; call 563-9135.

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