Catch the Hilberry’s Hay Fever before the snow flies

Photo by Richard L. Fosbrink

Photo by Richard L. Fosbrink

In Noel Coward’s 1925 comedy of manners, “Hay Fever,” Andrew Papa (left) as the son, Simon Bliss; Alan Ball as a self-absorbed novelist and the father, David Bliss; Samantha Rosentrater as a recently retired stage actress and the mother, Judith Bliss; and Sara Hymes as the unconventional daughter Sorel Bliss, subject their unsuspecting house guests to their family’s over-the-top and indulgent melodrama, which they sometimes engage in for situations that do not even exist, to the utter confusion of their hapless houseguests. The Hilberry production will run through Dec. 4 in rotating repertory.

By Sue Suchyta
The Hilberry, Wayne State University’s wonderfully talented and entertaining graduate theater company, opened its season Oct. 1 with the Noel Coward comedy of manners, “Hay Fever.” The show will run through Dec. 4 in rotating repertory.

Set in the 1930s in an English country manor house, the self-absorbed Bliss family – a recently retired actress mother, an egotistical author father, and two equally self-absorbed adult children, each invite a romantic prospect to their family’s country estate for the weekend.

It soon becomes apparent, however, that the Bliss family has invited the others to provide an audience for their deliberately random and over-the-top weekend drama.

The house guests, a generally well-mannered lot, are baffled by the draining and oddly entertaining drama that ensues.

If the 1930s had reality TV shows the Bliss family would populate its inaugural season. The company appears to enjoy the show and their roles, too – Coward created the plum parts to give his acting friends the opportunity to showcase their talent while having over-the-top fun.

The company makes the most of the funny comedy of manners and gave the audience their fill of chuckles and full-blown belly laughs.

Samantha Rosentrater cuts loose as the egotistical matriarch actress who eagerly embraces any opportunity for high drama even if she has to comically create it. She and Sara Hymes, who plays her daughter Sorel Bliss, have some wonderful scenes together.

Hymes also has some fun and clever scenes with Andrew Papa, as well. They are very entertaining in the scenes where the two adult siblings are emotionally reduced to a pair of pre-pubescent rivals.

Alan Ball as David Bliss, the father and egotistical novelist, reminds one of Stratford’s Brian Bedford in the best way possible.

It is wonderful to see Carollette Phillips, a second year company member, at long last in a larger role.

Lorelei Sturm is also enjoyable as the flapper Myra, and seems marvelously confident and at ease in the role.

It is fun to see Christopher Ellis’ character, Richard Greatham, a polished diplomat, maintain a grip on his character’s impeccable manners when bombarded by the audacious Bliss clan.

Peter Prouty evokes much laughter as the boxer Sandy Tyrell, who seems to be just barely keeping up with all the Bliss craziness. And while his lipstick-covered face is funny for one entrance, wearing red facial smears like the loser of a paintball war for the rest of the act is overkill.

John Woodland’s 1930s costume designs for the ladies are a fun visual treat.

The playbill inexplicably cut the talented actors’ bios to almost nothing, and eliminated the graduate company actors not in the show. Not only is this exposure important to their careers, it provides the patrons and audience with a crucial visceral connection.

It is also an insult to the talented and hardworking technical theater graduate student team to eliminate their photos and bios. The playbill uses two pages interviewing a first year actor who has yet to appear on the Hilberry stage at the expense of all the talented technical company members who worked on the opening show – and places the interview in the program before the bios of the “Hay Fever” cast.

Kudos to dialect coach Michael Barnes for treating the house to a wide range of British accents through the cast, from Vanessa Sawson’s saucy Cockney maid Clara to Christopher Ellis’ clipped diplomat-speak.

The theater is at Cass and Hancock in the shadow of Old Main on the Wayne State university campus.

For tickets, call the theater box office at (313) 577-2972 or order online at For more information about the season, go to

“West Side Story” – the ground-breaking Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Steven Sondheim musical that broke so many rules when it debuted in 1957 – has shaken things up again by reminding us that the Sharks are a Spanish-speaking gang, that the cast should be youthful, impatient and above all, look like and possess the restless energy and imperfections of teenagers.

The current revival now touring the country grabs that energy and makes the choreographed fights even rawer and infused with hotheaded temper without sacrificing skill, speed or accurate footwork.

And while Michelle Aravena as Anita and Ali Ewolt as Maria have an impish competition during the song “I Feel Pretty” to see who can hold an operatic high note longer, both reveal in the second act that they have incredibly rich voices worthy of opera singers that will send chills down ones spine. It’s no surprise when you read that Ewolt sang the role of Cosette in “Les Miz” on Broadway that she has an incredible voice.

The dance fight scenes are reason enough to see the show – and they are mesmerizing. The energy, focus and tension created through the company dance fight sequences are hypnotic. If you blink you’ll miss something.

The touring company will be at the Fisher through Saturday, so don’t miss a chance to see an energy-infused classic piece of American musical theater.

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster and the Fisher Theatre box office. To order online, or for the upcoming season, go to Call (313) 872-1000 for more information.