Sunday, Aug. 16, 2009

Identity and Hay Fever with the APT

By Russ Bickerstaff
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My wife and made out annual late summer trip to Spring Green for the final openings of the American Player’s Theatre—a trip cut short by openings that were occurring here in town. We did, however, manage to see a matinee of the APT’s thoroughly engrossing production of Hay Fever—the Noel Coward comedy of bad manners from 1925. The APT has had a remarkably good year and Hay Fever is an achievement rivaling their production of The Comedy of Errors, also running this summer. A comprehensive review of the show runs in an upcoming issue of the Shepherd-Express. 

This production of Hay Fever marked something of an anniversary for my wife and I, as the first play we’d ever seen together was a number of years ago. Back in October 2004, The Milwaukee Chamber Theatre did a production of it . . . haven’t seen it since until this past weekend.

The play is conspicuously lacking in the kind of witty dialogue that Coward is known for, but the plot is sheer genius, with vague twinges of post-modern concepts that were to come into fashion some time later. In it, we see an artistic family—an actress mother, a father who is a novelist, a son who is an artist and a daughter who makes an art out of shunning the ways of the rest of them in effort to be, “normal” . . . and each one of them has invited a different lover to the house for the weekend. In the course of the play, we see that the people who have come in as strangers to the household begin to reluctantly take romantic roles that have been molded for them by the circumstance . . . the guests are clearly there to entertain the hosts . . . very, very clever stuff. Each of the guests has his or her own identity, but while they are who they think they are, they effectively become other people for the purposes of a  drama that the family ends up amusing itself with and then casually discarding at the end of the show. The play was some thirty years ahead of a novel that would later explore the theme of identity as circumstance with the 1955 publication of Nigel Dennis’ The Cards of Identity.

In addition to the whole identity thing, Coward pokes very clever fun at the overly dramatic nature of the artist which is still every bit as fresh as it was over 80 years ago. This is a fun one and well worth the trip to Spring Green.

The American Players Theatre’s production of Hay Fever
runs through October 3rd Up The Hill in Spring Green, Wisconsin. A comprehensive review of the show runs in an upcoming issue of the Shepherd-Express.

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