‘Hay Fever’ | Credit: Jeff Liang
‘Hay Fever’ runs Nov. 14-19 at UCSB | Credit: Jeff Liang

Noël Coward is famous for infusing his “living-room” plays with biting wit, making his work — shows like the upcoming Hay Fever, produced by the UCSB theater department — an enduring staple of the theatrical circuit, even after a century. Directed by Julie Fishell, Hay Fever channels high-class affectation, fast-paced repartee, and absurd characterizations into one weekend at the Bliss family estate. Each member of the Bliss family invites a guest for an extended visit. The guests, who are presumably aware of their particular host’s eccentricities, are not prepared for the combined weirdness of all four Blisses in the same room. As absurdity mounts, the Bliss family maintains an oblivious air while their perturbed guests desperately plot exit strategies.

Hay Fever is a comedy of manners, a style of theatrical storytelling that caricatures social proprieties. “There is often a spotlight on the outrageous behavior of the well-to-do that exposes hypocrisy in a witty and cerebral way,” says Fishell, who has taught this text in a BFA acting course focused on performing heightened language. “The Blisses are not artificial people,” she says. “They are just themselves — colorful, self-absorbed, theatrical, emotional, scatterbrained. The guests, on the other hand, cover their true and equally fraught natures with hypocritical correctness.”

The scene of the Blisses’ outlandish behavior is the great hall of their country home. With a detailed, whimsical set designed by one of the department’s graduating seniors, Maggie Welch, the 1920s lifestyle of these old-money Brits comes alive in the Performing Arts Theatre. 

“It’s a period that I love,” says Fishell. “The clothes, the architecture, the art, and the political, financial, and social upheavals that took place between the two world wars…. Just playing the music of the era on rehearsal breaks breeds the energy and vitality of the time.”

See Hay Fever on stage November 14-19 and experience the sparkle of Coward’s work. For more information, visit theaterdance.ucsb.edu/news/event/1029.


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