Dinner Guests and Their Self-Centered Hosts

The Theatre, Film & Dance Department at Humboldt State University presents Hay Fever by Noel Coward, beginning April 27.


A cross between high farce and a comedy of manners, the play is set in an English country house in the 1920s, and deals with the four eccentric members of the Bliss family and their outlandish behavior when they each invite a guest to spend the weekend. The self-centered behavior of the hosts finally drives their guests to flee while the Blisses are so engaged in a family row that they do not notice their guests’ furtive departure.

Coward—actor, composer, and playwright once described as the person who “invented the ‘20s”—was born on December 16, 1899, in England. He first visited New York City in 1921 and hoped that American producers would embrace his plays. During that summer, he befriended the playwright Hartley Manners and his wife, the eccentric actress Laurette Taylor. Their over-the-top theatrical lifestyle later inspired him in writing Hay Fever. He wrote the play in three days in 1924.

Coward was one of the first playwrights of his generation to use naturalistic dialogue. His characters speak in the same ordinary phrases that people use in everyday conversation. Earlier dramatists had their actors performing in a more contrived, stilted fashion as they spoke complex and witty phrases that sounded poetic or literary. By contrast, Coward’s plays rely on the interaction between performers to grab attention and the context of a given line to generate laughs. It was understood that audience members might not leave the theater quoting a single clever phrase but chances were good that they laughed their way through the actual performance because of the amusing situations depicted on stage.

The production is directed by HSU Department of Theatre, Film & Dance Professor James McHugh. McHugh is a member of the design and technology faculty whose area of expertise is lighting design. In addition to lighting (shadow design) he teaches classes in visual aesthetics, production management, stage management, color theory, image and imagination and introduction to performance design.

McHugh describes Hay Fever as a screwball comedy.

“Unconventional, risqué, theatrical, and often downright rude, the Blisses are everything an upper-crust English family should not be, they are a divinely mad family,” he says.

McHugh believes the play encompasses three complimentary acting styles: screwball comedy (the dynamic conflict between etiquette and insanity; silent screen acting (the dramatic gestures that need no words); and simple, natural family conversations.

The talented cast of nine actors includes student, faculty and community actors. They are supported by a team of student and faculty designers: scenic and lighting designs are by Derek Lane, costume design by Izzy Ceja, sound design by Cory Stewart, properties design by Ray Gutierrez, and make-up and wig design by Angelica Negrete.

Hay Fever runs April 27- 28 and May 4- 5 at 7:30 p.m. plus two matinee performances April 29 and May 6 at 2 p.m.. The play contains mature content and while there is no profanity, the subject matter is full of complicated relationships and sexual innuendo amid a sophisticated bohemian weekend house party. General admission is $10. Students and seniors are $8. Lot parking is free on weekends.

For tickets, please call 707.826.3928 or go to centerarts.humboldt.edu/online. For more information, call 707.826.3566.