KPBS AIRDATE: February 09, 2007
Ahh, the idle rich. They have an overabundance of time – to abandon their relatives and debase their friends. Whether effete snobs or petulant little girls, the wannabes take a drubbing in two veddy English plays: Noël Coward’s “Hay Fever” and the musical version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s beloved classic, “The Secret Garden.”
Young Mary Lennox is a beleaguered orphan whose parents died in India during a cholera outbreak. At the outset of the Lucy Simon musical, with book by Marsha Norman, Mary’s a nasty, spoiled little thing when she arrives at her sour uncle’s mansion in Yorkshire. The Lamb’s Players Theatre production plays down her initial irascibility, so she doesn’t take much of a personal journey, though she does reawaken her brooding, inattentive uncle and the neglected garden of her deceased aunt. The two kids are cute, but there are some age mis-matches that undermine the proceedings. The long-dead aunt looks older than the husband who survived her. The uncle is more youthful than his younger brother. With minimal heat between the separated lovers, we aren’t deeply moved when they croon a romantic, yearning ballad across the Great Divide.
But the singing is flawless, thanks to a stellar cast, under the musical direction of G. Scott Lacy. The costumes are also lovely, especially the white silk frocks of the ghosts that swirl through the action. The up-and-down-the-stairs staging gets a little repetitive, and the minimalist set doesn’t give the feel of a looming, dingy castle. But the score is charming and the story, poignant. And those glorious voices provide many moments of sheer bliss.
The bliss is of a strikingly cynical, derisive nature up at the Avo, where some snooty Londoners are having a heckuva time out in the country. In the Moonlight production of “Hay Fever,” the Bliss family, a wacky, eccentric lot, perhaps more affected than outrageous, has inadvertently invited too many houseguests for the weekend. The hosts play musical partners, feign envy and engage in head-spinning mind-games to amuse themselves and undermine their visitors, who desperately seek an escape to sanity. The mocking repartee can be relentless if it isn’t done right. But under the crisp direction of guest artist Eric Bishop, a theater prof at Mira Costa College, it’s all wonderfully right. The ensemble is outstanding, every actor carving out a character that, while not necessarily likable, certainly is sharply etched and well conveyed. From the flibbertigibbet sister to the harebrained brother, the desultory father to the hyper-theatrical mother, this is a clan you can easily learn to detest. But their less artistic, more pedestrian guests are odious, too. The production is deliciously decadent fun, gorgeously attired. Pointless, predatory behavior never looked so good or seemed so entertaining.
So, take your Hay Fever out into the Garden and rub noses with the rich and monstrous.
©2007 Patté Productions Inc.