by Jim Murchison
Saturday was a big deal. 100 years of entertaining the community is monumental in Canadian theatre. The official opening of Hay Fever is Tuesday, but when you have achieved what OLT has achieved it should be marked by a special celebration. The grand opening was attended by dignitaries and special guests and paid special tribute to long time patrons that had remembered OLT in their wills. Before the play commenced, The Capitol Chordettes led the audience in the singing of both God Save the King (circa 1913) and Oh Canada to frame the 100 years of history.
the dynamic of these individuals trying to survive a day with this quirky unconventional family is what the play is about
Ottawa Little Theatre has chosen to do 10 plays each representing a different decade of their history. Launching the season is Noel Coward's Hay Fever first performed in 1925. The bohemian Bliss family is anything but blissful. Their bickering is endemic to their communication and it is a favourite device of Coward's to demonstrate that affection expresses itself in unusual ways. Each member of the family has invited a guest to the home without consulting the other and the dynamic of these individuals trying to survive a day with this quirky unconventional family is what the play is about. That's it. Not much of a plot, but Coward's wit and an awkward circumstance is more than enough to provide a wonderful evening of entertainment.
The play had a little trouble early on getting going. There was an awkward miss that wasn't in the script and you could feel the audience waiting for the cast to pull it back. To their credit, they did to the relief of all. I don't think it is something that will occur again and the cast got stronger and stronger as the play progressed. Overall, it was a fun evening.
Director Tim Ginley has taken a cast of 9 actors and moved them through their eccentric theatrical paces very well. The moments of overlapping dialogue where the bickering Bliss family and the uncomfortable guests look for places to hide are particularly funny and well executed.
Not everyone wears the accents with the same level of comfort, but there are a few performances that really stand out. Dianna Renee Yorke as the matriarch, Judith Bliss, completely owns her eccentricities. She is the most wildly theatrical and is completely committed to her own selfishness and her quest for attention.
Gail "Jo" Molloy as the former dresser turned house manager Clara plays her consternation with the family with a world weary saunter that works as a perfect counterpoint to the Family's off centre zaniness.
Andrew Stewart as house guest Sandy Tyrell has a very strong entrance and his awkwardness is executed incredibly well. Perhaps the most effective family guest of the night was Penu Chalykoff as Richard. He is consistently funny and I won't give it away, but he manages to completely command a scene in which his co-star is a barometer.
One decade down for this season and nine to go, but what is more important is the 100 years started with Ottawa so clearly behind them so who knows how many more centuries OLT will flourish. Congratulations on a great achievement and to all the dedication it takes to make it happen. The members of the Ottawa Drama League would have been very proud of what they started and their spirit was in the house.