Hay Fever at Guthrie Theater

Josh Cragun

It's probably ironic that the name of the family in Noël Coward's comedy of discomfort is Bliss, as there is little of that in the country house where rudeness is a virtue and guests are there mainly to be ignored. Then again, for the audience, the whole Christopher Luscombe-directed creation is just that: comic bliss from beginning to end. The company brings out the humor in Coward's script, and not just in the clever dialogue but in the awkward pauses that threaten to run on forever, and in the silent fear of the guests as they try to work out how to escape from this weekend of hell. The four Blisses, you see, have invited four people for the weekend, without bothering to tell anyone else. The family takes its 1920s Bohemian lifestyle seriously, to the point that they all are willing to do and say whatever they want—even if that leaves their poor guests twisting in the wind. The entire company dives right into the madness here, wringing comedy out of every awkward moment. One of the best comes early on, when two the guests—a diplomat (Matt Sullivan) and a young woman (Heidi Bakke)—are left to fend for themselves in the living room. The two have nothing in common, and each attempt at small talk just leads to longer—and funnier—pauses. Later, after a disastrous evening, each guest comes downstairs for breakfast, as cautious as a rabbit in a dog kennel. John Catron's Sandy captures the mood perfectly, quickly eating his meal, always alert for a sign that the horrible family has risen and retreating to the library at the first sound. The evening is full of great performances, though Bakke eventually steals the day with her lost and confused Jackie, in part because everyone has been in her shoes—at a party where you don't know the rules, are unsure how to act, and just wish you could disappear into the wallpaper.

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