REVIEW: Nothing really happens in this confection of a show, but the actors get to show off their comic chops.
In the most uproarious sequence in "Hay Fever," which opened over the weekend at the Guthrie Theater, Judith Bliss, a retired actor, blesses the hurried union of one of her children and a family guest. But she has reservations about the whole thing.
As played with witty physicality by Broadway veteran Harriet Harris, Judith walks upstairs away from the pair in overly dramatic fashion, pausing to hector them along the way. When she reaches the landing, she falls down, then drags herself on all fours. She yells one last time through the balusters and disappears down a hall.
The moment encapsulates the grandiose silliness at the heart of this highly artificial Noel Coward comedy, which is getting a studied, well articulated revival by British director Christopher Luscombe.
Long before "Seinfeld" came and went into syndication, "Hay Fever" was a show about nothing.
Coward's 1925 comedy whirls around the Blisses, an odd family that breathes air made up of one part fiction and two parts drama. Judith has left the acting business, but she still has some of that acting business left in her. She and novelist husband David (Simon Jones), a seemingly practical man who spends most of his time locked away writing, are the not-quite-proud parents of painter son Simon (John Skelley) and daughter Sorel (Cat Walleck).
Without sharing their plans with one another, each of the four family members has invited a guest, and possible romantic interest, for a weekend at their country home. But passions are crossed and concocted hilarity ensues in fits.
The production takes place on set designer Janet Bird's small-scale house, whose upstairs is painted with Cubist patterns.
At the outset, the careful cast members appear as comfortable as tourists lost in a foreign country. But the actors all loosen up, with Skelley's Simon mixing dourness with an acid tongue. Also delightful is Walleck, whose Sorel is saucily sweet. Jones' David is the understated straight man of the Blisses and he plays it well.
Those playing the guests -- Charity Jones as dignified Myra, John Catron as studly Sandy and Heidi Bakke as foolish deer-in-headlights Jackie -- deliver as well, even if the show amounts to a pretty piffle.