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Eccentricity is Bliss

This 1924 comedy is as fresh as ever

Jane McKittrick as Judith and W. Scott Pinkston as Richard. Photo courtesy Centerstage Theatre

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A bit of farce and a bit comedy of manners, Noël Coward's Hay Fever seems as fresh and saucy on stage at Tacoma Little Theatre as it must have when it premiered almost a hundred years ago -- thanks to terrific directing by Rick Hornor and an amazing cast headed by Jane McKittrick as the washed-up actress and matriarch of the eccentric Bliss family. It is doubtful there has ever been a more blissful and whacky theatrical family on stage (pun very much intended).

Judith Bliss (McKittrick) is a flirtatious senior citizen who has suddenly decided to revise her theatrical career. David (John W. Olive) is novelist and Judith's self-absorbed and equally flirtatious husband. Their adult children, Simon (Rodman Bolek) and Sorel (Deya Ozburn), are even more flighty than their melodramatic parents. This upper-class British household is rounded out by their disdainful housekeeper, Clara (played to perfection by Adrianna Littlejohn).

The action takes place in the Bliss' English country estate, beautifully constructed on the TLT stage by Blake R. York.

Each of the four Blisses, without the others knowledge, has invited a houseguest for the weekend, none of whom know each other or any of the other Bliss family members, and each of the family members tries to seduce one of the guests -- but not necessarily the one they invited. The out-of-place guests are Sandy (Frank Roberts), a boxer and fan of Judith; vampish Myra (Devan Malone), whom Simon has a crush on; Richard, a diplomat (W. Scott Pinkston); and Jackie (Jill Heinecke), a kind-hearted but not too brilliant flapper -- all of whom figure out by Act II that every member of the Bliss family is absolutely bonkers.

The dialogue is fast-paced (especially after Act One), intelligent and witty, but it is the physical comedy that makes this play as hilarious as it is. McKittrick, who is far too seldom seen on stage, plays the role of Judith as if she were born for it. Her haughty expressions are striking. Ozburn perfectly expresses the personality of Sorel with her physical gestures. The way she pouts and places her hands theatrically on the small of her back is spot-on. And the way Bolek flops his rubbery body all over the set must be seen to be believed. Theatergoers will remember him from his hilarious turn as the similarly indolent title character in Bunbury at Olympia Little Theatre.

Hay Fever runs a little over two hours in three short acts with one intermission. I'm glad I saw it, and I'm sure you will be, too.

HAY FEVER, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through June 23, $20-$25, pay what you can Thursday, June 20, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 North I St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281,

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