With Laura Andruski directing and actors such as Debbie May and David Bacheldor among the cast, you might conclude that the coming production of Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever” was being performed at the Schenectady Civic Playhouse. Well, you’d be wrong.
Instead, some of the names that have become synonymous with community theater in Schenectady will be taking the stage at the Albany Civic Theater on Second Avenue where Coward’s piece about England between the two world wars will start tonight and run through March 9.
“There’s a wonderful group of people in the Capital Region who transition in and out of different companies, and you don’t always see that in other areas,” said Andruski, who has directed a number of shows at Schenectady Civic and the Schenectady Light Opera Company but is directing for the first time at Albany Civic. “In many community theaters, there are production teams and actors who don’t move; they just stay loyal to one company, and that’s not such a good thing. In this area, we have a wonderful network of creative theater companies, and everyone freely shares their resources. It’s nice to be able to move around, and I know it helps me grow as a director.”
Fond of play
Andruski, who most recently directed “Once Upon This Island” at SLOC last spring, submitted “Hay Fever” to the selection committee at ACT last year and was overjoyed to get an affirmative response.
“I really love Noel Coward plays, and while ‘Private Lives’ and ‘Blythe Spirit’ get done a lot, ‘Hay Fever’ doesn’t,” said Andruski. “But I have a real soft spot for it, and I was really happy when they put it on their schedule and I was to direct. That gave me a whole year to put together a really good production team even before we went into auditions.”
While a student at the University of Wisconsin, Andruski performed in a production of “Hay Fever” directed by Montgomery Davis, a vital figure in the Milwaukee arts community who died last May.
“I was an intern at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and I was in a summer stock production of this play directed by Monty Davis,” said Andruski. “He was a great professional actor and director, and working with him was a wonderful experience for me. When he passed away last year, I thought this would be a great way to honor him.”
“Hay Fever” tells the story of a self-centered theatrical family whose outlandish behavior chases away the guests they have invited for the weekend. The play, supposedly written by Coward in just three days, opened in London in August 1925 to critical and commercial success. Three months later, it was on Broadway but ran less than three months before closing. It also had New York revivals in 1931, 1970 and 1985, none of them lasting more than two months. Described as a cross between high farce and a comedy of manners, Coward’s play does require some sophistication on the part of the audience.
It’s about the language
“It’s very wry in its humor, but we’ve managed to fit in some slapstick for our American audience,” said Andruski. “It’s not your typical Noel Coward play, but there is a lot of humor in the language and the situations the characters get themselves in.”
“I enjoy British humor, because I get a real charge out of their dry spin on things,” said Bacheldor, who plays David Bliss. “I’m the self-absorbed novelist and head of the Bliss family. So for me, it’s an awful lot of fun.”
“It’s a British comedy — so you have to be on your toes watching it,” said May. “It’s not the same as American slapstick. You have to listen to the words. It’s about the language.”
While the play is an ensemble cast made up of nine actors who all get their time on stage, the really plum role might be that of Judith Bliss, played by May, a Scotia-Glenville guidance counselor who directed “A Christmas Story” at Schenectady Civic just this past holiday season.
“Everybody has their own little scene, but most everything revolves around Judith. So it really is a dream role,” said May. “It’s one of the first shows I’ve ever been encouraged to overact in. I’m the mother of the clan, a celebrated actress who has retired from the stage but can’t retire from acting. So she launches into bits and pieces of plays she has been in at the drop of a hat, and everyone looks at her like she’s some kind of crazy.”
May has kept busy as a director more than an actress lately, but she was anxious to get back on the stage herself.
“I’m at the awkward age where I’m too old for the young roles and too young for the old roles,” said May. “So, this role was perfect. This is definitely the role I wanted, and the other reason I wanted it was for the chance to work with Laura. I hope to be part of her stable some day. She does a marvelous job, and every time I work with her I learn something new.”
Bacheldor, a musician who didn’t begin acting until three years ago, most recently performed at the Schenectady Light Opera Company in “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” “Hay Fever” is his first nonmusical role, and working with Andruski has made the transition a much easier one.
“Laura’s done a lot of research for us, because there’s a lot going on in this play,” said Bacheldor, who also worked with Andruski in “Once Upon This Island.” “There are lines that you just throw away, that you say almost casually, and then there are times when you’re supposed to be melodramatic. It’s been a great experience so far.”
Andruski, whose next project will be directing “The Wizard of Oz” for the Not So Common Players in Clifton Park this summer, said her first experience working in Albany has been a wonderful one.
“I’ve done so much at Schenectady Civic and SLOC, and I’m sure I’ll do more there, but this is my first time at Albany Civic and they’ve been very supportive,” she said. “It’s a tremendously creative place to work. So I feel very good about this production. The pool of talent we have in this area is just amazing, and it makes being involved in community theater so very rewarding.”
WHERE: Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave., Albany
WHEN: Tonight through March 9. Performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: 462-1297 or www.albanycivictheater.org