STANFORD REP SUMMER FESTIVAL HONORING NOEL COWARD
OPENS WITH THE EXCELLENT BLISS FAMILY WEEKEND
Stanford Repertory Theatre 17th summer series is celebrating the work of Noel Coward and his 90 year old classic HAY FEVER. Cowards icon comedy still is as funny and durable as it was in 1925. SRT’s Artistic Director, Rush Rehm in a recent interview with the SJM said "He was one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century, probably ever. In the late 20s, early 30s, he was the highest-paid writer in the world. He was extraordinarily important, in terms of popular entertainment. He became the talk of the town, a theatrical phenomenon." SRT’s polished and excellent production is one not to be missed, the cast is very talented.
Noel Coward once wrote, "The only thing that really saddens me over my demise is that I shall not be here to read the nonsense that will be written about me and my works and my motives. There will be lists of apocryphal jokes I never made and gleeful misquotations of words I never said. What a pity I shan't be here to enjoy them!" It is this perfect use of satire that gives Coward the staying power to which many playwrights aspire. His sharp wit is just as funny and engaging in 2015, and this take by the TBA award winning company SRT honors his spirit.
Director Lynne Soffer, keeps the three act story at a fun pace of comic timing. The talent of her cast are so very inviting, Courtney Walsh plays the classic theatre diva Judith Bliss. “She uses sex like some sort of shrimping net.” so many iconic insult lines are part of Walsh’s amazing comic performance. Coward vs Wilde on insult lines comes into play, but in HAY FEVER Coward wins. In this comedy, set in a country house in the 1920s, the four eccentric Bliss family members invite a guest to spend the weekend without telling the others. The four guests are fairly normal, yet each with their own unique backstory. As the visit proceeds the Bliss family wreaks chaos on their new friends hooking up and coupling with them like facebook friend page.
There have been have been a few plays written about impossible guests but Coward turns the table and created some very lovable nightmare hosts. Add the charming fact that the theatrical family bursts into scenes from their favorite plays and you have the Bliss family. Like having a dinner with Vanderhof’s from “You Can’t Take it With You” - or a drink with George from “Virginia Woolf”.
A high end production needs careful casting and Soffer as accomplished that. Walsh is ideal as Judith Bliss as the theatrical diva. - Her classic line “I’ve been pruning the calceolarias” and a Coward's comment on critics, mom Bliss says “Thank you for a brilliant first night. The critics all leaning forward with glowing faces, receptive and exultant-emitting queer little inarticulate noises as some witty line tickles their fancy.”
Walsh is a pure pleasure to watch on stage, she does go over the top, but only as Judith would in her normal day to day Bliss life style.
Bruce Carlton is the confused and very well meaning father, David Bliss. Carlton is excellent in the third act as the Bliss family really shows off their eccentric bi polar charm. The Bliss brother and sister love to fight and Kiki Bagger and Austin Caldwell are the perfect neurotic team. They both bring an accomplished mix of comic timing and Cain and Able subtext. The guest list for the weekend support the family with some very funny moments and a slew of insults. Deb Fink is perfect as Myra, the battling diva to Mrs Bliss. Fink is superb as floatacious stalker house guest intended to conquer the young Bliss son, but swoons on daddy Bliss.
SRT Artistic Director, Rush Rehm makes the perfect dapper Richard Greatham, the guest invited by Judith Bliss. Rehm proves his comic skills in this confused older gent, his scenes with Walsh are so fun to watch - his perfect awkward pauses and comic timing sometimes steal the scene. Local favorite Kathleen Kelso plays the young Jackie, the sweet and confused guest invited by Mr Bliss. Kelso dressed in the innocent baby blue dress is a charm to watch on stage as she struggles dealing with the crazy home. The talented Andre Amarotico is flawless as Sandy the aimless boxer, set to hook up with momma Bliss. Amarotico has some great scenes with the diva and he manages to charm the Bliss family. Of course all the intended hook ups come to very funny fails and Coward makes that point in the fast pace second act.
Connie Strayer wonderful gowns for Judith Bliss are fitting for her over the top scenes she performs from the play scripts she has on cue. The color scheme of the four visitors highlighted by Sandy’s delightful tweed and Myra’s wine red frock are splendid. The second act formal wear is elegant and all the women look fit for the ball. This is a delightful evening celebrating the SRT’s Noel Coward Festival. After 90 years this work still stands up to 2015 smiles and a well deserved standing ovation at opening night. The festival continues this summer with “COWARDY CUSTARD: A COWARD CABARET” opening August 13th - more details below.
STANFORD REP SUMMER FESTIVAL PRESENTS Noël Coward Festival
July 16 – August 9, 2015
Thursdays – Saturdays at 8pm; Sunday matinees at 2pm
Pigott Theater, Memorial Auditorium (Memorial Way)
COWARDY CUSTARD: A COWARD CABARET
August 13 –23, 2015
Thursdays – Saturdays at 8pm; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm
Nitery Theater, Old Union (Lasuen Mall)
Noël Coward: Art, Style, and Decadence also includes a FREE Monday night film series; an all-day community symposium on Saturday, August 1;
and a Stanford Continuing Studies Program course, “Theater on Theater: Euripides to Coward and Beyond.”
FOR TICKETS Visit stanfordreptheater.com
Photo's by-Frank Chen