— (L to R) Jordon Navratil, Chris McBeath and Meaghan Chenosky. Photo: Doug Williams
Dahling, you must see Noel Coward’s 1925 comedy Hay Fever. His characters are awfully amusing, frightfully queer at times, but on the whole perfectly ripping! And those actors at Jericho Arts Centre, dahling, you’ll just adore them. They’re never ghastly or beastly.
Yes, Coward’s play belongs to a world of extreme class snobbery where servants are easily mocked (a scullery maid named Amy “looks more like a Flossie”—har har) and a cardinal sin is to wear “badly cut trousers.” The manners in this comedy of manners are highly exaggerated and the snooty upper-middle class twits’ dialogue is as arch as can be. But it is awfully, frightfully funny.
With an extremely sure hand for Coward’s rhythms and style, director William B. Davis (the former Cancer Man in The X-Files) showcases a talented cast and excellent design team in United Players’ season opener.
The play takes place on Sean Malmas’ nicely detailed drawing room set in the country home of the eccentric Bliss family. At the centre of the household is Judith, an actress whose best years may be behind her but who nevertheless remains 100% diva. Chris McBeath takes this, the play’s juiciest role, and makes more than a meal of it, all sweeping melodramatic gesture and wry, self-conscious affectation.
Novelist husband David (Jack Rigg), daughter Sorel (Meaghan Chenosky) and son Simon (Jordon Navratil) are not quite as outrageous as Judith but are, as Sorel says, sufficiently “slapdash” to drive other people bonkers, even as no-nonsense housemaid Clara (Nina Shoroplova) tries to keep them in line.
Each of the Blisses has invited a guest down for the weekend: Sandy (Christopher Cook), a fawning young fan of Judith’s; beautiful but catty Myra (Melissa Oei), on whom Simon has romantic designs; Sorel’s squeeze, the stuffy diplomat Richard (Thomas Saunders); and David’s invitee, little flapper Jackie (Rebecca Husain, the funniest of a funny crew).
There’s no plot to speak of and nothing much happens before the guests flee the house and their wacky hosts. Some tentative romancing leads nowhere in amusing ways and attempts at a couple of parlour games are comically short-circuited by the sheer quirkiness of the characters’ personalities.
Some of the best comic moments take place during long, awkward silences, especially in a hilarious scene of social ineptitude and abortive small-talk between Richard and Jackie.
Special kudos go to costume designer Catherine E. Carr’s gorgeous flapper dresses. In fact this entire production, though only semi-professional, looks and sounds as good as anything you’ll see on a fully professional local stage.
It’s really rather ripping.