Review No. 1 is in for “Hay Fever” and it is a HIT!



By Kerry Clawson
Beacon Journal/

The Blisses are the most self-absorbed, ill-behaved hosts you’ll ever see. And, boy, are they funny on stage at Western Reserve Playhouse’s production of Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever.”

Leading the way in the local production of this 1925 comedy is Bernadette Hisey as diva Judith Bliss, a retired actress who revels in playing elaborate dramatic games. Her repeated melodramatic behavior is something her two children Simon (Zach Manthey) and Sorel (Rachel Szeles) gamely join in on, presumably to spare themselves from complete boredom in their home in the English countryside.

Directed by Kevin Kelly in his first time at the helm at the playhouse, Hisey, Manthey and Szeles play off each other quite humorously in the opening scene as they openly insult each other as well as each person’s choice for a weekend guest. Each family member, including father David, has invited a member of the opposite sex, unbeknownst to the others.

Manthey and Szeles show us just how spoiled these young adults are as Sorel cries against a wall and the impetuous Simon throws a temper tantrum when each hears that other guests have been invited. Coward has created choice insults in this family banter, including Judith telling Simon that his guest Myra “goes about using sex as a sort of shrimping net.”

Szeles is charming as Sorel, alternating between calling her mother out on her affectations and going along with her egotistical games. The retired Judith still seeks out her adoring public, especially younger men, which Sorel calls undignified.

In this play, nothing much happens, other than the blithe Blisses toying with their unsuspecting guests. These family members are fully aware that they’re bad mannered, but they can’t stop themselves.

We get the feeling the Blisses have played this game many, many times when, as Judith puts on one of her many overly dramatic acts, Simon tells her she’s “being beautiful and sad.”

“But I am beautiful and sad,″ she responded.

The dry humor of “Hay Fever” starts to grow as each Bliss family member couples up with a guest whom he or she hasn’t invited. Novelist father David (Vincent Sarowatz) also gets in on the action later as each family member flirts, is found in a compromising position or makes bold proclamations of love, merely for effect.

Director Kelly adds some fun touches that make the whole premise even more ridiculous, including Hisey’s very married Judith playing footsies with boxer Sandy (Danny Simpson) on the couch. Other put-upon guests are the nervous Jackie (Emmy Cohen), whom Kelly does not choose to dress as a flapper; the worldly Myra (Linda Schneider) and the “diplomatist” Richard (Eric Coublourne).

Rounding out the cast is Susan Wagner as ill-tempered maid Clara, who’s Judith’s former dresser for the theater.

The Blisses are so full of themselves, they force their increasingly uncomfortable guests to play an adverb game in the evening but don’t even notice them sneaking out the next morning, during their zealous family quarrel at the breakfast table.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or