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Gunn theatre captures Roaring Twenties in “Hay Fever”

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By Kush Dubey

Set in an English countryside mansion during 1924, playwright Noël Coward’s “Hay Fever” depicts the comical romp that ensues when the eccentric Bliss family invites guests who happen to be the polar opposite in both class and personality. Junior Alan Hanson—who plays David Bliss—believes the contrasting mannerisms of the Blisses and their guests create dramatic hilarity for the audience. “It puts two very different kinds of people next to each other—a bohemian family has invited down these four guests who are very culturally savvy,” he said. “It’s them next to these crazy, artistic, weird, totally out there people, and in the end the play makes fun of both parties.”

In the play, characters Judith Bliss, a retired actress, her novelist husband, David and their grown children Sorel and Simon each separately invite a guest without telling other members of the family. The weekend get together unfortunately takes a turn for the worst. The informal nature of the Bliss family—whose members prefer word games over witty dialogue­—clash with the more reserved and polished disposition of their guests. By Sun. morning, all of the visitors are ultimately driven out the Bliss household by their self-absorbed and over-the-top behavior. According to Theatre Director Jim Shelby, this annual fall production, while lacking any sort of plot, provides great entertainment value to people of all ages through the lively and amusing interactions that occur throughout the play. “It’s fun and hilarious,” he said. “While the Bliss family is really mean, [the audience] will grow to love them and their character.”

For the play’s actors, the script’s humor contributes to a relaxing yet animated acting environment. “It’s very lighthearted, but at the same time the characters are so dynamic towards each other,” junior Yasmine Hamady said. “The play is like theatre on ecstasy.” The comedy—which stands out when compared to last year’s plays­—also adds to the variety of genres offered by Gunn theatre. “In the past year we did Rimers of Eldritch and Macbeth which were really dark for the most part,” he said. “Recently there’s been a lot of down tempo, so it’s definitely a contrast.”

A new aspect Gunn theatre will be introducing in “Hay Fever” is the concept of double-casting, in which each character is played by two different actors. Hanson thinks that this addition has made producing the play a challenging yet rewarding experience. “I initially thought that it would be difficult to work with someone else but still be consistent with the character, but I learned that you can still make the character distinct to you,” he said. “It’s a balance we’re looking for and something we’re all trying to learn together.”

To capture the essence of the Roaring Twenties, the theatre team has emphasized detailed costume design in the production process. The result is a realistic recreation of the time period. However, Shelby believes the unfamiliar era will make it difficult to convince students to come see the play. “It was written in 1924, so why would somebody in 2014 care about a play written 90 years ago?” he said. “The answer is that it’s a brilliant and hilarious play, and it doesn’t feel old at all.”

Shelby hopes that while the play is relatively unknown, the community will still recognize “Hay Fever”’s unique comedic expression and the theatre’s talented cast and crew. “There are so many great plays written that people don’t know about, and this is one of them,” he said. “I encourage people to take a chance on a play that’s actually been done really well and is played by a bunch of great actors. You won’t regret that you came.”

There will be a performance on Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m., and a matinee performance on Nov. 15 at 2:30 p.m. in the Studio Theatre. Tickets are available in the Student Activities Center and at the door.

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Gunn theatre captures Roaring Twenties in “Hay Fever”