For Ottawa Little Theatre’s 100th season, they’re digging into their history and drawing one (presumably successful) play from each decade they’ve been around. First up, pulled straight from the roaring 20s: Hay Fever. It opened, September 18th and runs through October 6th.
Should you see it?
“We none of us never really mean anything.” (Sorel Bliss)
Hay Fever is defined as a cross between a farce and a comedy of manners. For the uninitiated, a comedy of manners is a play that satirizes the manners of a particular social class. Basically, much of the comedy comes from the rudeness or mistreatment of one or more characters by one or more others. In this case, the perfectly nuclear Bliss family — David (dad), Judith (mom), Sorel (sis) and Simon (bro) – are an upper class British family who, shall we say, aren’t the most courteous hosts. One weekend, unbeknownst to one another, they each invite a guest over for the weekend. Hilarity is then expected to ensue.
I don’t think Hay Fever hit the mark as a farce. Perhaps it’s because the subject matter didn’t feel as improbable or wildly out there as it may have been in the 20s – I could imagine the Blisses as being scandalous and improper in the 20s but how often do we see these and similar tropes today? Irrespective of that, Hay Fever just didn’t feel nearly fast-paced or high energy or physical enough to earn its stripes as a farce.
That isn’t to say it didn’t live up to being a good comedy. It wasn’t non-stop funny but both me and the audience enjoyed a lot of laughs throughout the play. The end of act two marked a huge highlight, where the Blisses go from being discourteous to their unknowing guests to just plain messing with them. There, and in act three, you come to know the context of the line quoted above — which describes the Bliss family perfectly. This Bliss family ability to take nothing seriously was undoubtedly more stinging back in the 20s, but it still led to many a funny situation.
Note that Hay Fever is three acts with two intermissions-still maintaining a 2hr run time.
Among the cast, Katie Volkert was a stand out. Her strong presence and characterizations stole the stage whenever she set foot on it as the aware-of-her-families-failings-and-trying-to-overcome-them-Sorel Bliss. She also had some of the best costumes in the show and gets bonus points for having the best program bio I’ve ever enjoyed reading.
Zoë Tuplin was also notably strong in her role as the only character who knew what she was getting into and who was perhaps even more discourteous and, hey, yeah, let’s say bitchy, than the Blisses. Penu Chalykoff had some fun physical gags. And Dianna Renee Yorke was not only amusingly melodramatic as the drama queen matriarch of the family, but she also sings a mean tune.
All told, Hay Fever may be less biting today than it was when it was first produced but it’s still a fun night of light entertainment and leaves me looking forward to the rest of Ottawa Little Theatre’s landmark 100th season.
For more information on the Ottawa Little Theatre’s production of Hay Fever, including video interviews, photos and scene samples, see our preview article.
What did you think? Have you ever been invited to a dinner or weekend getaway and then treated discourteously? Are the Blisses really all that shocking, or is Hay Fever a play that just isn’t as strong here in the 21st Century? Oh, and can anybody tell me where the title comes from? Tell me in the comments below.