TheatreFEST 2017’s Hay Fever at N.C. State Is a 1920’s British Version of "The Bickersons"

N.C. University Theatre’s production of Noël Coward’s Hay Fever, presented as part of TheatreFEST 2017, under the direction of John C. McIlwee, is a fast-paced laugh-fest. Imagine you have made plans to spend a relaxed weekend at your country estate and have invited one or two guests to join you in this pleasant, quiet endeavor. Imagine, also, that three other family members have the same aspiration and have sent out similar invitations. Sounds nice, right? Unless, of course, you and your family members have multiple differences of opinions and none of you have any grasp of the concepts of “politeness,” “diplomacy,” or “courtesy.” Nice? Pleasant? Quiet? Relaxed? I think not!

Self-centered, headstrong, and prone to bickering, Simon and Sorel are the adult children of retired actress Judith and her novelist husband, David, both every bit as cantankerous as their children. These are the four family members in question. With delicious British irony, the family’s surname is Bliss!

JoAnne Dickinson plays Judith Bliss. Judith has decided to return to the stage, reprising one of her favorite roles. A few sequences in the play convinced us that this is a recurring subject in her life. Dickinson makes sure that we know that Judith has been blessed with a distinct lack of modesty.

Danny Norris imbues the character of David Bliss with an equal degree of self-importance. Norris’ David is bombastic, presumptuous, and demanding.

Teal Lepley and Darius Shafa play David and Judith’s children: Sorel and Simon. Suffice it to say that neither apple fell far from either tree.

One almost needs a scorecard to keep up with which family member invited which guest, but that does not detract from the hilarity that ensues as these guests, expecting a blissful event, are treated to “Bliss-ful” “hospitality.” The guests include Sandy Tyrell (Linh Schladweiler) and Myra Arundel (Lynda Clark), who arrive individually and find the Bliss household quite discombobulating. Both actors deliver delightful characters.

One of the funniest scenes is the simultaneous arrival of the effervescent (but apparently clueless) Richard Greatham (Jonathan King) and the mousy Jackie Coryton (Mackie Raymond). King and Raymond play off each other beautifully. Raymond, in particular, provoked peal after peal of laughter in this scene and others. And we suggest that you keep an eye out for a later scene that includes an interaction between Richard Greatham and a barometer.

And in case these guests did not feel “welcome” enough, housekeeper Clara (Kathy Norris) has a signature method of greeting them upon arrival. Norris’s Clara was another audience favorite.

We’ve grown accustomed to superlative sets and costumes at the Titmus Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall, and this show definitely does not disappoint.

From the Department of Pick-Picky: On opening night, the first scene seemed a little slow out-of-the-gate, but soon picked up. We feel sure that this will correct itself in subsequent performances. Also, it was a bit difficult to understand the first few minutes of dialogue. We suspect that this was failure on our part (quite possibly because we needed some time to adjust our ears to the dialect).

SO: If you want an evening full of laughs at the foibles of a dysfunctional family, we recommend that you consider attending this show.

N.C. State University Theatre presents HAY FEVER at 7:30 p.m. June 17, 2 p.m. June 18, 7:30 p.m. June 21-24, and 2 p.m. June 25 in the Titmus Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall, 2241 E. Dunn Ave., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607, on the NCSU campus, presented as part of TheatreFEST 2017.

TICKETS: $20 ($6 NCSU students, $12 students, $16 NCSU faculty and staff, and $18 seniors 60+).

BOX OFFICE: Buy tickets in person at Ticket Central, by telephone at 919-515-1100, or online at







Hay Fever: A Play in Three Acts (1925 Broadway comedy): (Samuel French, Inc.), (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

The Script: (Google Books).

Study Guide: (Utah Shakespeare Festival).

Sir Noël Peirce Coward (English playwright, screenwriter, and composer, 1899-1973): (official website), (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and (Wikipedia).

John C. McIlwee (director and director of University Theatre): (N.C. State University Theatre bio).


Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.