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at 100 Islands Playhouse, Ganonoque, ON, Saturday, May 19, 2001
The 1000 Islands Playhouse has opened their 2001 season with Noel Coward's 1925 romp, HAY FEVER. The Bliss family, a charming but self-absorbed quartet of flamboyant snobs, entertains four houseguests with three days of temperament.
The two-level set designed by Dennis Horn is a wonderful example of an English country house of the period, and is expertly lit by Tim Fort. Mr. Horn is also responsible for the period costumes which for the most part are lovely, in particular Myra's Act II backless cocktail dress, period shoes, and glittering earrings. But a small caveat - where are the seams in the ladies' stockings? It's unlike Mr. Horn, whose work I admired in FOURSOME at Upper Canada Playhouse, to neglect this kind of detail.
As Mr. Coward said of the play, "It has no plot at all, and remarkably little action. Its general effectiveness therefore depends upon the expert technique from each and every member of the cast." Unfortunately, in some cases the expert technique seems to be lacking.
J.D.Smith who plays young Simon Bliss, needs to learn to listen to the other actors instead of acting alone. In the opening scene he gives his sister Sorrel, quite well-played by Sally Gifford, almost nothing to respond to. Anne Hardcastle plays the maid Clara as a one-dimensional caricature, while Greg Wanless seems to be walking through the role of David Bliss. He's also the only cast member with almost no Mayfair accent. Having seen Denise Anderson-Irwin in OLIVER, I know she's a better actress than she appears to be in this one-level Betty Boop characterization of Jackie.
Shane Carty as Sandy and Judith Cooke as Judith Bliss both improve as they go along. As a matter of fact, at the performance I saw, the whole cast seemed to need most of Act I to warm up and began to come alive in Act II.
The two exceptions to this are Matthew Gibson as Richard and Tracey Ferencz as Myra. These two are the cast standouts. Mr. Gibson was delightful in the word game, and seemed to pass the spark of life to Judith in his scene with her. As to Ms. Ferenz, I enjoyed her performance in last year's THE MELVILLE BOYS, and this year's performance as Myra is just as strong and believable. Mr. Gibson and Ms. Ferenz are the kinds of actors who make everyone else on stage with them look better.
Director Bill Fisher has staged the play efficiently, but has been unable to mold his uneven cast into an ensemble. If Act I were to begin with the vitality and ensemble feeling of Act III, the entire play would be much more enjoyable, as these are wonderful characters who float on a wonderful sea of Noel Coward language.
On a scale of one to five, the 1000 Islands Playhouse production of HAY FEVER gets three and a half fish. For North Country Public Radio, I'm Connie Meng.