Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The setting is quaint enough. Everything takes place in an English country house in the 1920s. As we enter the theater, Brad Clement is at the piano playing instrumental versions of pop songs from the 1920s. Even though Clement isn't officially a character in the play, he will slam the piano keys when he's not happy with the characters. Kind of a 1920s Greek chorus.
The action begins with the two youngest members of the Bliss family (yes, the name is darkly ironic). Sorel (Paige Underwood-Fleming) and her brother Simon (Caleb Ramsell) are lounging around discussing the guests they have invited to the house for the weekend.
Soon their mother, Judith (Colleen Neary McClure), a former actress, joins them. She too has invited a guest. Later we find out the father, novelist David Bliss (Mark Danley), has also invited a guest. None of the family members has let the others know about the invited guests. Rounding out the family is Clara (Patricia Thompson), the colorful housekeeper with a jump in her step.
As the guests arrive, we see that each comes with individual peculiarities. Then, in a fitting form for drawing-room humor, each guest is attracted to a Bliss family member who is not the one who offered the invitation. So the weekend becomes a complete meltdown, with different matchups scurrying into various rooms and returning to the drawing room having "kissed."
While the interplay is a complete mess, with powerful infatuations that seem to last only a few minutes, we do get to see that the Bliss family is a complete disaster, far beyond simple dysfunction. Every gesture, every cruel word generates grievance and resentment. Yet on some screwy level, the crazy family members seem to enjoy the madness. It's as though George and Martha had morphed into Lucy and Desi. And it all concludes in dastardly fireworks. Just hilarious.
Director Marlo Cabrera has loaded up this production with stellar actors, and he gets some terrific performances from each one. This is a well-oiled ensemble that includes a number of delicious individual performances. With the small role of Clara, Thompson dashes off surprising body comedy that's always funny. Ramsell as Simon is an absolute force of nature. He seems to be pulling from a very strange internal place to deliver a character that comes from the planet Id.
The high acting kudos go to Neary McClure as Judith. She has been strong in each of the many performances I've seen her in. She always finds that personality kernel that brings life and depth to the character. In Hay Fever, she's at her best. She can stand perfectly still and bring down the house with the move of an eyebrow or a twist of the mouth.
The production team delivers well. Mickey Gammill has put together a sturdy set that functions well through all physical comedy. The costumes by Rhonda Backinoff are tons of fun, especially the get-up Simon wears during the opening scene–just brilliant It's a strong and funny play throughout.
Hay Fever, presented by West End Productions, runs through May 15, 2022, at the VSA North Fourth Art Center, 4904 4th St. NW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. General admission is $23. Discounted admission is $22 for ATG members, military, students, and seniors (62+). Tickets at the door are an additional $2. For tickets and information, please visit westendproductions.org or call 855-937-8505.