Smile Politely

Catching (a glimpse of) Hay Fever

Many of you — especially those hardworking students and teachers who feel as though they have just now started to unwind — may feel reluctant that August is quickly approaching; however, you will hopefully take comfort in the fact that Urbana’s Celebration Company at the Station Theatre is dusting off an audience favorite, Noel Coward’s Hay Fever, for Thursday, July 30th through Saturday, August 15th.

If you need a refresher on or are completely unfamiliar with the comedy, Director Tom Mitchell explained that an over-the-top, theatrical family residing in Cookham, Berkshire around 1920, “overwhelm their four houseguests with romantic intrigues and manic parlor games.” Hay Fever’s Bliss family is actually based on an real  theatrical family that Coward knew.

Those who have been following the Station Theatre’s history may notice that this will be its second time doing Hay Fever. Now in its 43rd season, the Station first staged the production during the Theatre’s 18th. When asked about repeating the production, Mitchell stressed that the selection committees emphasize “new plays that provoke thought or surprise expectations, and revivals of established plays that have a current relevance or can engage the audience with their style.” Hay Fever fits the latter bill due to Coward’s wit, his “eccentric characters in cleverly constructed situations,” and the fact that despite its age, “the characters are recognizable and their reactions are very human.”

This particular production will include both new and returning Station Theatre talent. Joi Hoffsommer (Judith Bliss, mother and retired actress), Gary Ambler (David Bliss, father and novelist), Kay Holley (Clara, housekeeper), Cara Maurizi (Jackie Coryton, young and ditzy flapper), Eric Beckley (Richard Greatham, diplomat), and Malia Andrus (Myra Arundel, houseguest) are dubbed “Station Theatre veterans” by Mitchell.

Newcomers include local musician/singer Kenna Mae Reiss, who joined the cast as Sorel Bliss, the “frustrated daughter of [Judith] a famous actress mother”. Playing her brother, Simon Bliss, will be Nic Morse. Although Morse has performed at the Station Theatre before now, this major role is a significant step up from his previous experience. Another new face is Warren Gaver, who plays Sandy Tyrell, described by the director as “one of the hapless houseguests”. You may have seen Garver before in one or more of Parkland College’s productions; he played a role in each of its shows last season.

Mitchell described the difficulties of a summer production: “everyone had irregular schedules and we’ve pieced together rehearsals whenever we can meet.”  The extremely motivated and dedicated cast rose to the challenge, as he may have known they would.  He admits he intentionally “gathered people whose work [he] admired, and who were fun to work with.”

The rehearsals that Mitchell particularly enjoyed were those where local vocal coach Christine Sevec Johnson was present. She assisted the cast with their necessary British dialects for the play, and he describes her as “insanely creative and playful, encouraging the actors to think of the language as bubbling champagne.”

Audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with Coward’s Hay Fever can expect the same things, according to Mitchell:  high-energy performances and favorite local talent “interpreting the characters, bringing their own particular charms to [Coward’s] writing.” 

Mitchell hopes that all audiences will leave with a smile and a laugh. “In the words of one of Noel Coward’s songs, I hope they’ll feel that ‘they’ve been to a marvelous party!’

If your summer has been as hectic as the Bliss family’s, catching Hay Fever can be a relaxing escape and a relatable experience. You can watch others deal with the madness for a couple of hours. Otherwise, if summer has been that quiet calm before that windy, fall storm, change it up one weekend to enjoy a comical classic performed by talented, local actors for an exciting display of fun.

Either way, it doesn’t sound like a bad way to end the summer and usher in the haying season, does it?

The Station Theatre is located at 233 N. Broadway Ave. in Urbana. All performances begin at 8 p.m. If you are interested in reserving tickets, please call (217)384-4000 or visit the Station Theatre online.

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