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`HAY FEVER’ OFFERS A BREATHER FROM TRADITIONAL HOLIDAY FARE

SHARE `HAY FEVER’ OFFERS A BREATHER FROM TRADITIONAL HOLIDAY FARE

HAY FEVER by Noel Coward, Pioneer Theatre Company production directed by John Going; Lees Main Stage of Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1340 East (Broadway at University); continues Mondays-Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. through Dec. 17; group discounts available. Reservations: 581-6961. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

"It's all nonsense; sheer unbridled nonsense," opines exasperated but stodgy diplomat Richard Greatham (Max Robinson) during one scene in "Hay Fever."He could be summing up the entire evening at PTC.

Social and political "correctness" may be the buzzwords of the mid-'90s, but Brit wit Noel Coward poked fun at (and holes in) "proper" upper-crustian foibles decades ago with his unique style and grace.

The Blisses - flamboyant mother Judith, romance novelist David and their free-spirited offspring, Simon and Sorel - are ensconced in a big country home south of London.

Ah, but this is not your Donna Reed collection of parents and kids. The folks running amok on the Lees Main Stage are a decidedly renaissance bunch.

The action takes place on a weekend in June 1925, when the family is in for some hilarious surprises. The Japanese room - the one space available for guests who might pop in - could soon be very crowded, indeed.

First Sorel announces that she has invited a fine young chap - Richard Greatham - to the house for a weekend visit. Then Simon admits that he has asked Myra Arundel, whose wild histrionics are a hand-in-glove match for those of Judith's, to spend the weekend as well.

After which it's discovered that Judith herself was hoping for a quiet rendezvous with hunky boxer-in-training Sandy Tyrell . . . and David, unbeknownst to the others, has invited ditzy Jackie Coryton over for a weekend of research.

All of these surprise invitations don't sit well at all with the no-nonsense maid, Clara (she'll not-too-gladly open the door for guests when they arrive, but don't expect her to roll out any red carpet).

While "Hay Fever" isn't as frothy as "Blithe Spirit" or "Private Lives," Noel Coward's chaotic, fast-paced humor is a welcome relief from the overcooked plum puddings and visions of Scrooge crowding December theater scene.

Guest director John Going has a superb all-Equity cast, all perfectly suited to Coward's eclectic array of guests and hosts, and visiting scenery designer Peter Harrison has created a wonderful, 21/2-story country estate, with a flora-packed solarium, exposed rough-hewn beams, an attic crammed with the Blisses' odds and ends. It's a colorful display of chintze sofas and fringed tablecloths.

(At the end of the run, I know several people who would like to move right in.)

Coward's outrageous dialogue requires a top-notch ensemble, and that's exactly what Going has going for him.

Allyn Burrows and Kathleen McCall portray Simon and Sorel Bliss, the rambunctious brother and sister anxiously anticipating a big weekend with seductive Myra (played to the hilt by Anne Stewart Mark) and stoic Richard (yet another hilarious turn by Utah favorite, Max Robinson).

Patricia Hodges is making her PTC debut as oft-retired actress Judith Bliss, bored with life in the country and about to make what will certainly be a triumphant return to the stage. I'm not sure if Bliss ever makes it back to a London stage, but Hodges is welcome in Utah any time.

Joyce Cohen is delightful, too, as the nervous Jackie Coryton, with Dennis Ryan as handsome boxer Sandy Tyrell and Jerry Lanning as David Bliss, who is valiantly (more or less) trying to finish his latest novel, "The Sinful Woman."

Brusquely moving in and out of the raucous comings and goings is Margaret Crowell as the perturbed housemaid, Clara. (If you're visiting the Blisses anytime soon, you'd better be prepared to fetch some things on your own, buster.)

Carol Wells-Day's costumes - especially the dressy attire for the evening party - are authentic and colorful. Cynthia McCourt's hair styles and David R. Zemmels' lighting also deserve kudos.