It's June in the English countryside, and the idle rich have nothing better to do than pick flowers and watch them wilt. "Hay Fever" -- Noel Coward, circa 1925 -- is an artifact of an era of three-act, single-set, drawing-room comedies that proliferated on both sides of the Atlantic before musicals dominated the theater world.
Although the Hampton Theatre Company, now concluding its 30th season, has stretched the drawing-room genre far beyond its London origins, the Coward canon epitomizes the Quoque-based troupe's roots. Peter-Tolin Baker's windowed, upper-crust set envelopes an English-
garden backdrop that surrounds the estate of the anything-but-blissful Bliss family: Judith, mother and semiretired actress; David, father and pulp novelist; Simon and Sorel, siblings with no discernible prospects. Each invites an opposite-sex guest for the weekend without informing anyone else in the family. The last to know is house servant Clara (Diana Marbury, nimbly doubling as director). She's expected to serve tea for eight.
The Blisses are bored and, for stretches of Act I, they bore us, too. Coward comedies, from a time when attention spans were less short-fused, require patience. Stick around past intermission. You'll be rewarded with an arch farce that clicks when well played, as it is here.
Rosemary Cline, who admits to appearing in the first Hampton Theatre Company production in 1985, presents a drama-queen Judith who makes us feel for everyone she touches -- except those closest to her. Andrew Botsford as hubby David plays the highfalutin scoundrel with such acuity that we believe he enjoys it. Gabriella Campagna as Sorel and Bobby Peterson as her brother, Simon, reflect their parents' stage-crafted narcissism in mirrored dysfunction. Drawn into their weekend sphere are Anthony Famulari as Sandy, Judith's "date" who's surprised to learn that her husband isn't deceased; Jane Cortney as flapper beauty Myra, invited by Simon but distracted by his dad; Matthew Conlon as Richard, introduced by Sorel but smitten by her mother, and Amanda Griemsmann as Jackie, David's invitee who finds herself in way over her head. Each player adds his/her own personal sense of discomfort by the black-tie formality of their hosts' melodrama.
Nothing about this "Hay Fever" takes us back to the '20s like Teresa LeBrun's costumes, perfectly attuned to afternoon, evening and morning changes reflected in Sebastian Paczynski's day-night lighting.
Pollen season or not, "Hay Fever" is worth a sniff.