Quote of the Day: We all play off of mother. It’s one of our unwritten rules.” Sorel Bliss in Hay Fever by Noel Coward
Cat Walleck as Sorel Bliss, Harriet Harris as Judith Bliss and John Catron as Sandy Tyrell. Photo by MICHAEL BROSILOW from the Guthrie facebook page. Like the Guthrie on facebook for current shows, what’s coming, and ticket specials.
When the character, Judith Bliss, makes her entrance in Hay Fever, the entire Wurtele thrust theatre is filled with her grand presence and self-absorbed wit. It was a delight to watch Harriet Harris live on stage. She has great comedic timing and delivery. We recognized her from her role on the tv show Frazier as Frasier’s conniving agent Bebe Glazer. Her portrayal of Judith Bliss, an actress who never stops being dramatic, was outrageous. Her body, her actions, her facial expressions all made this character and play a highly entertaining event.
The Bliss family have a lovely country cottage where they go to retreat and indulge in their own forms of art. One weekend, they have all invited a special guest, without consulting with other members of the family, and they’re all a little put out that the other might trump them in who will be most entertaining. As each guest arrives, the tension in the cottage increases. These skilled actors do a marvelous job of creating the uncomfortable feeling of sitting in a room with someone you’ve just met, wondering where your host might be in the recesses of the house, and thinking, as the character Jackie says, “I wish I’d never come.”
The family members argue about who will sleep in the “Japanese Room” and turn a word game into a major family meltdown. Couples pair up, split up, and join up with a different guest, and mother/actress Judith pushes them all over the edge with her extreme reaction to every comment, action, and tryst.
We sat up in the balcony for this show, and I felt like I was looking down into a doll’s house, with the roof removed, as the figures moved in and out of rooms and relationships, moods, and costumes. (Btw, the ladies’ evening gowns were just as gorgeous from the back as they are from the front, flowing and intricate, a delight to the eye from every angle of the thrust stage.)
Hay Fever has a stellar cast including Harriet Harris with her numerous film, tv, and stage credits, Simon Jones who appears to have been everywhere from Hollywood to Broadway, and Barbara Bryne who has been in over 60 productions at The Guthrie. (She’s the star we sat next to for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.) What I enjoyed seeing was this star power mixed with some actors who are newer to the Guthrie, and a couple students from the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater B.F.A. Actor Training Program. What a great learning experience from a phenomenal cast.