Coun­try house party goes hay­wire in Coward farce

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - STAGE - By Jon W. Sparks Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

Jerry Chip­man, who is di­rect­ing “Hay Fever” at The­atre Mem­phis, prom­ises that it will be “witty and fun, a show about a weekend of cat­a­strophic things go­ing hay­wire and not a se­ri­ous mo­ment in it.”

The show, which opens this weekend, comes with a solid pedi­gree, both in play­wright (Noel Coward) and in a tal­ented cast that knows how to pull off not so much a com­edy of man­ners but “a com­edy about peo­ple with no man­ners,” Chip­man says.

The 1925 farce was re­port­edly based on a weekend Coward spent with a highly the­atri­cal fam­ily who, Chip­man says, man­aged to in­sult, hu­mil­i­ate and ig­nore their guests. The play­wright wrote it in three days — it was a smash and has turned out to be the most of­ten re­vived and per­formed of Coward’s plays.

The story takes place in an English coun­try house presided over by ma­tri­arch Ju­dith (Christina Well­ford Scott), re­cently re­tired from the stage and ter­ri­bly full of her­self. Her hus­band, David (Greg Fletcher), is a nov­el­ist who is sim­i­larly in­clined. Their two grown chil­dren (Lena Wal­lace Black and Gabe Beu­tel-gunn) take af­ter the folks. Each of the four has in­vited a guest for the weekend with­out con­sult­ing the oth­ers.

Chip­man says the hi­lar­ity that en­sues de­rives from the “thinly veiled ro­man­tic in­ten­tions” that pre­cip­i­tated the in­vi­ta­tions, which “go hay­wire when no one is at­tracted to the per­son they in­vited.”

The play “is all about style,” Chip­man notes, “so you need peo­ple who can han­dle Coward’s language.” The guests in the cast are Ki­non Keplinger, Melissa Walker, Evan Mc­car­ley and Danielle Carr. Barely tol­er­at­ing the en­tire event is Martha Graber as Clara, the maid.

“It’s such a good en­sem­ble,” Chip­man says. “And they are run­ning in and out through­out the play.”

The other stylis­tic as­pects will be seen in the set and cos­tumes, some­thing that The­atre Mem­phis does par­tic­u­larly well.

“There’s a gor­geous twos­tory set,” Chip­man says, “and some stun­ning cos­tumes. It’s set in 1925, which is also the year of the last sea­son of ‘Down­ton Abbey,’ where you saw the men in black tuxe­does and women wear­ing acres of chif­fon. It’s a hand­some show to look at.”

“Hay Fever” runs April 29-May 15 at The­atre Mem­phis, 630 Perkins Ext. Show­times: 7:30 p.m. Thurs­days, 8 p.m. Fri­days and Satur­days, 2 p.m. Sun­days. Tick­ets: $25; $15 stu­dents with valid ID and youth. Info: the­atremem­phis.org and 901-682-8323.

se­nior cit­i­zens, stu­dents, mil­i­tary with ID, $10 chil­dren un­der age 18. Ad­vi­sory: strong language. 901-7264656. play­house­on­thesquare.org

“Fid­dler on the Roof”: Pre­sented by Stage Door Pro­duc­tions. 7 p.m. Fri­day-satur­day, 2:30 p.m. Sun­day and 7 p.m. Thurs­day. Other shows at 7 p.m. May 6-7; fi­nal show 2:30 p.m. May 8 at The Sal­va­tion Army Kroc Cen­ter, 800 East Park­way. All shows are “pay what you can.” Tick­ets sold at the door an hour be­fore each per­for­mance. Call 901729-8029. stage­doormem­phis.org


The IRIS Orches­tra again wel­comes pi­anist Jonathan Biss, who has per­formed in town sev­eral times over a 20-year-plus span.

He was 14 in 1994 when he played Bach, Beethoven and Chopin in the Artists As­cend­ing se­ries and he re­turned in 1996 with­the­mem­phissym­pho­ny­orches­tra. In 2006, he was fea­tured soloist with IRIS, per­form­ing the Mozart Pi­ano Con­certo No. 21. In 2008, it was Mozart’s Pi­ano Con­certo No. 22 with the MSO.

This weekend, he’s com­man­deer­ing the Beethoven Pi­ano Con­certo No. 2 in B-flat ma­jor, which hints at his love for Lud­wig. He’s work­ing on a nine-year, nine-disc record­ing cy­cle of Beethoven’s com­plete pi­ano sonatas, and he wrote “Beethoven’s Shadow,” the first Ama­zon Kin­dle Sin­gle by a clas­si­cal mu­si­cian.

Biss has been a mem­ber of the fac­ulty of his alma mater, the Cur­tis In­sti­tute of Mu­sic, since 2010. There he led the school’s first mas­sive open on­line course to a vir­tual class­room of 51,000 stu­dents last sea­son.

Also on the IRIS pro­gram is Prokofiev’s Sym­phony No. 1, “Clas­si­cal,” an homage to Haydn and Mozart. End­ing the con­cert, and the 2015-16 IRIS sea­son, is Men­delssohn’s Sym­phony No. 1, which he fin­ished be­fore his 16th birth­day.

IRIS Orches­tra with pi­anist Jonathan

“Hay Fever”: Noel Coward’s far­ci­cal com­edy of man­ners. 7:30 p.m. Thurs­days, 8 p.m. Fri­daysSatur­days and 2 p.m. Sun­days through May 15 at The­atre Mem­phis (Lohrey Stage), 630 Perkins Ext. Tick­ets: $25; $15 for stu­dents and youths age 11 and un­der. 901-6828323. the­atremem­phis.org “Mar­cus; or the Se­cret of Sweet”: A com­ing-of-age story about a young gay man in the South. 7:30 p.m. Thurs­days-fri­days, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Satur­days and 3 p.m. Sun­days through May 8. Tick­ets: $26 ($22 mati­nee). Hat­tiloo Biss, 8 p.m. Satur­day and 2 p.m. Sun­day at the Ger­man­town Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter, 1801 Ex­eter. Tick­ets: $45-$65 Satur­day, $40-$60 Sun­day. Info: irisor­ches­tra.com, gpacweb.com and 901-751-7500.


Hat­tiloo The­atre is stag­ing the third of Tar­rell Alvin McCraney’s fas­ci­nat­ing Brother/ Sis­ter tril­ogy, “Mar­cus; or the Se­cret of Sweet.”

The in­ter­con­nected plays, in­clud­ing “In the Red and Brown Water” and “The Broth­ers Size,” vividly show Mccraney’s unusual sto­ry­telling style, which gets un­der the skins of the char­ac­ters’ lives. There is some­thing im­pres­sion­is­tic in th­ese tales, with po­etry and songs mak­ing a sto­ry­line that is of­ten dream­like. But they are also beau­ti­fully and care­fully ren­dered.

In “Mar­cus,” the young pro­tag­o­nist is try­ing to un­der­stand

The­atre, 37 S. Cooper. 901-5250009. hat­tiloo.org

“The Of­fer­ing”: In 1970s New York, a fight for sex­ual and psy­cho­log­i­cal dom­i­nance takes four peo­ple to heights un­fore­seen in this Bluff City Tri-art The­atre Com­pany and J.E.T. En­ter­tain­ment pro­duc­tion. 8 p.m. Fri­day-satur­day and 3 p.m. Sun­day at The­atre­works, 2085 Mon­roe. $20; $15 se­nior cit­i­zens (age 60-plus), stu­dents and mil­i­tary with ID. 901-946-6140. bluffc­i­ty­tri­artthe­atre.zo­hosites. com his sex­u­al­ity and try­ing to fig­ure out why ev­ery­body is re­act­ing the way they do to some­one be­ing “sweet,” a eu­phemism for gay.

Into the mix are dreams about his fa­ther and a loom­ing storm all tak­ing place in a fic­tional Louisiana town in, as the play­wright says, the “dis­tant present.”

Cameron Yates is ter­rific as Mar­cus, cap­tur­ing all the angst of a teenager try­ing to fig­ure things out. The en­sem­ble cast is strong, fill­ing out the story with dis­tinc­tive per­son­al­i­ties who buf­fet Mar­cus along his jour­ney.

The set is spare — just some dif­fer­ent lev­els to per­form on, and that of­ten is the most ef­fec­tive way to tell the story.

“Mar­cus; or the Se­cret of Sweet” runs through May 8 at Hat­tiloo The­atre, 37 S. Cooper. Show­times are 7:30 p.m. Thurs­days, Fri­days, Satur­days and 3 p.m. Sun­days. Tick­ets are $18-$28. Info: hat­tiloo.org or 901-525-0009.

“Seussi­cal Jr.”: Pre­sented by De­soto Fam­ily The­atre. 7 p.m. Fri­day, 2 and 7 p.m. Satur­day and 2 p.m. Sun­day. Tick­ets: $12. The The­atre at Lan­ders Cen­ter, 4560 Ven­ture Drive. 662-470-2131.

“A Street­car Named De­sire”: 8 p.m. Fri­day-satur­day and 2:30 p.m. Sun­day. Ger­man­town Com­mu­nity The­atre, 3037 For­est Hill-irene, Ger­man­town. $24; $17 se­nior cit­i­zens, stu­dents; $12 ages 12 and un­der and Ger­man­town mu­nic­i­pal stu­dents. Call 901-453-7447. gct­come­play.org


The maid played by Martha Graber (top) is not amused by the an­tics of the Bliss fam­ily (seated, from left), played by Lena Wal­lace Black, Christina Well­ford Scott and Gabe Beu­tel-gunn in “Hay Fever” at The­atre Mem­phis.

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