UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Theater and Dance put on their annual fall play from Nov. 14-19, in the form of “Hay Fever,” a show about the Bliss Family, an incredibly eccentric and theatrical family in the 1920s.
The Performing Arts Theater (P.A.T.) was packed from Nov. 14 to Nov. 19, with students, faculty and community members filling the space to watch and support the department. The P.A.T. was completely transformed into the Bliss family’s extravagant living room, with beautiful pastels and elegant furniture setting the tone for the family’s flamboyant personalities. The set was designed by fourth-year English and theater design double major Maggie Welch, who has done set design for previous shows at UCSB, such as “Night Night, Roger Roger” and “Seaward.” Welch successfully executed the project and created a beautiful set that went wonderfully with the rest of the design choices.
Walking into the P.A.T. felt like being transported back in time, with atmospheric music contributing to the immersion of the room. As the clock ticked towards 7:30 p.m., the audience quieted as siblings Sorel Bliss, played by third-year bachelor in fine arts (BFA) theater acting student Georgia D’Aloisio, and Simon Bliss, played by third-year BFA theater acting student Travers Tobis, made their way onto the stage, immediately launching into a disagreement and bringing prime sibling energy to the stage. Sorel Bliss is a relatable teen daughter that is never quite satisfied with the way things go, while Simon Bliss is a stereotypical and romantic aspiring artist. The two actors had an incredible sibling dynamic throughout the entire show while also creating incredibly convincing and relatable characters, despite the show taking place an entire century earlier than present day.
As the play progressed, the audience was introduced to Judith Bliss, a crowd favorite and possibly the most eccentric and dramatic character of the whole show. Played by fourth-year BFA theater acting and psychological & brain sciences double major Phoebe Alva, Judith is an ex-actress who views the whole world as her stage and takes any opportunity to gush about her work and fans. Her husband, David Bliss, played by fourth-year BFA theater acting student Wilder Marsden, is a playwright, spending days and nights locked in his study, working on his next masterpiece.
The play’s main conflict arose as all four of the Bliss family members realize they have invited someone to spend the weekend in their home, all without telling the others. Judith brings along Sandy Tyrell, a boxer and huge fan of Judith’s work, played by fourth-year BFA theater acting student Nick Enea. Meanwhile, David Bliss invites Jackie Coryton, an anxious flapper girl, played by fourth-year BFA theater acting student Frances Manthorpe, there to keep him company as he finishes his manuscript. Siblings Sorel Bliss and Simon Bliss individually invite Richard Greatham, a well-mannered diplomat, played by fourth-year BFA theater acting and communication double major Jonah Spitler, and Myra Arundel, a cunning, sassy and pretentious city girl, played by fourth-year BFA theater acting student Ahlora Victoria.
A comedic play, the show was full of funny and iconic moments that had the audience erupting in laughter. Every single character had something to offer, whether it was one of Sorel Bliss’ awkward moments that any girl could relate to or Jackie Coryton’s awkward, anxious and ditzy demeanor that beautifully contrasted the pretentious family she was in the company of.
More conflict arises when the original guests start getting together with different members of the family, creating a whole new level of comedy and ridicule as they dodged one another for fear of judgment and all end up in affairs with new guests.With duos of characters running around, barely missing each other and ending up in quite awkward situations spun into theatrical nonsense, the audience was full of smiles and laughter.
One of the funniest moments of the night took place at the start of Act 3, as Clara, the housekeeper played by third-year BFA theater acting major and Iranian studies minor Sara Sadjadi, began to set the stage for the next morning, laying out coffee and trays of breakfast. Of course, she could not do this alone and thus chose a new audience member every night to walk around the stage with her, preparing things for the morning. This was certainly an audience favorite moment with whispers and giggles heard around the entire P.A.T., waiting for the moment to end and once again erupting into laughter as it continued on.
The show ends with the guests being unbelievably fed up with the family and their unbelievable lifestyle, ultimately deciding that it’s best for them to all sneak out of the house. In an attempt to not directly upset anyone, they aim to be out before the family wakes, however, can’t make it out in time before the Blisses are gathered into the living room discussing David Bliss’ newly finished script. This doesn’t deter them, as they slip out the front door while everyone is too distracted arguing about unimportant matters that could only pertain to a family like the Blisses. As Sorel Bliss says earlier in the night, “None of us never mean anything!”
The play itself may have appeared superficial on the surface, with no moral tale or lesson being learned as the lights came on and the audience slowly shuffled out. However, there is something mesmerizing about watching a family and their silly shenanigans, getting to laugh at their privilege and ridiculous lifestyle. While the play lacked a big overarching message, it didn’t need one. The audience was still left with a lasting impression.
Looking past the content of the play itself, the different design elements of this play were phenomenal and another component that contributed to the lasting magic of the show. For one, the costume design, done by guest costume designer Bradley Allen Lock, offered wonderful characterization for the whole family. If their mannerisms and living space weren’t enough, the intricate and well-thought-out costuming drove the whole idea home.
UCSB’s Department of Theater and Dance has once again put on an incredible show. The whole experience can easily be summed up by a quote from Sorel Bliss in Act 2: “You just fell a victim to the atmosphere.”