The Art Theater of Davis production of Hay Fever shows off some pretty bad behavior.
Timothy Nutter of the Art Theater of Davis clearly loves classics from a century ago. He launched the company with dramas such as Chekhov’s Three Sisters (1900) and Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (1890). He’s currently staging Noël Coward’s comedy Hay Fever (1924) and next up is Johan Wolfgang von Goethe’s tragedy Egmont (1788). Here’s hoping Nutter keeps it up, because these are wonderful plays which most companies hereabouts stage only occasionally. Nutter even likes to have an old-school curtain drawn aside as each act begins, a marvelous custom.
This production of Hay Fever is being marketed as “blissfully bad behavior,” and it’s an apt description. We’re introduced to an English family of self-obsessed artists and intellectuals: Dad writes novels, and Mom’s an actress of a certain age, reluctant to acknowledge that she has offspring who are marriageable young adults. And they all like to argue, reminding of a recent Capital Stage production of the modern play Tribes, which opened with a bruising family-feud scene. Coward, coming from a more elegant age, eases into the simmering conflicts gradually, with wit (and not a single f-bomb).
Unbeknownst to each other, each family member has invited an unsuspecting guest for the weekend, which quickly leads to chaos and assorted flirtation. Hay Fever is one part humorous exposé of the purposeless wealthy class, and one part bedroom farce. We hear lots of observations like “Marriage is a hideous affair altogether, don’t you think?” And you can’t do Coward without plenty of cigarettes (e-cigs in this case), a well-stocked bar and servants bringing in tea.
The cast—community actors (some with a good deal of experience)—does pretty well, transporting us into a bygone age of manners and assumptions. And while the costumes and sets are perforce low budget, they are nonetheless well chosen, including a vintage wooden tennis racquet, a 1920s-style sofa for two, and a functional piano.