While there is no evidence that playwright Noel Coward ever ventured into the Mid-Hudson Valley, he created the perfect farce about the Valley weekender.
To be fair, Coward’s 1924 play “Hay Fever” was inspired by a friend from the London theater. But if you’ve ever watched your neighbors from Manhattan putter around the garden in $200 designer jeans or swan around the farmer’s market, you know the entertainment value of city folk in country environs. So did Coward; “Hay Fever” concerns the Bliss family, self-absorbed folk capable of transforming a mere breakfast into an Elizabethan tragedy. When each of the four members—Judith, David, Sorel, and Simon—invites a guest to their country home without telling the others, chaos predictably ensues.
While the comedy was originally situated in Cookham, Berkshire, a new staging of “Hay Fever” transfers the action to the Mid-Hudson Valley, literally. Shauna Kanter, artistic director of the Manhattan-based VOICETheatre company, will stage what she calls “a comedy of bad manners” in her Bearsville home. Audience members will be placed on the perimeter of the action. When an actor exits the scene, he walks through a door, not through the wings.
VOICETheatre is no stranger to site-specific productions. The company, assembled in 1988, launched its inaugural show in a warehouse in Paris. “After freezing our petuddies off,” said Kanter, the show transferred to the venerable New York venue La MaMa Experimental Theater Company. VOICETheatre has since performed contemporary and classic works in Germany, London, Scotland, Poland, the Middle East and throughout the United States. “Hay Fever” will play nine performances during a three-week period.
The setting for the play is a 1945 house situated two miles from the center of Woodstock. Kanter has updated the setting of the 1920s story to the late 1950s.
“Because Woodstock has long been a place where people have come to escape the city and frolic,” said Kanter, who directs this show, “Hay Fever not only fits the environment of Woodstock but [also] the Bliss family, a family mostly made up of artists could easily live in Woodstock.”
While the audience—the living room can accommodate 29—will stay seated, they will be able to follow the entirety of the action. Most scenes will occur in the living room, with some spilling into adjacent rooms and outside areas still visible to the theatergoers.
“Hay Fever” features Robert Lloyd, a veteran of the Royal Shakespeare Company who appeared in the groundbreaking “Marat/Sade” on Broadway; Joris Pieters, an international actor whose New York stage roles include “Jack Straw in Guantanamo”; Jessica Candall, whose recent roles include a staging at La MaMa E.T.C. and a reading at The Public Theater; award-winning Los Angeles actor-comedian Audrey Rapoport; Chicago actor Christa S. Trinler; indie film actor Adam Hardin; Barefoot Theatre Company member John Gazzale; and Kimberly Kay, a longtime stage and TV actor best known regionally for her stints on local radio.
While blocking this show presents logistical challenges, neither Kanter nor her company found preparation overwhelming. “Site-specific work is a joy for the director and the actors—if all the elements in the site serve the play,” she said. Moreover, many of the cast are living in Kanter’s house during the engagement, allowing ample time to become acquainted with their hyper-realistic stage.
Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever,” will be performed by VOICETheatre August 19 through September 4. Friday, Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 2pm. Admission $20; seniors/students $17. 13 Wittenberg Road, Bearsville. Reservations: (845) 679-0154. www.voicetheatre.org