HAY FEVER, Court Theatre. Noel Coward's 1925 play is a hybrid--part comedy, part serious drama. Based loosely on the goings-on in real-life actress Laurette Taylor's eccentric family, the work has a first act that seems a run-of-the-mill setup for farce. You have your situation (a weekend in the country), your handful of oddball characters (a needy wife, an emotionally absent husband, a hunky dumb jock, a vacuous flapper), and just enough hints of trouble (adultery and thwarted desire) to ignite a plot. The second and third acts, however, are much more interesting, as initially comic encounters turn poignant; a knock-down-drag-out family fight in the third act, like the marital squabbles in Coward's Private Lives, is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking.
Director Gary Griffin, working with an A-list cast led by Paula Scrofano and John Reeger, stumbles at first. His staging of the early scenes is so conventional and flat it only underscores the mechanics of an act meant to "lay the pipe," as the sitcom people put it, for the rest of the story. He's on much surer ground in the next two acts: when Coward wants us to laugh, we roar, and when he wants us to see the wounded souls behind the witty, sharp-tongued masks, actors like Scrofano and bright newcomer Dana Green show us just how deep Coward can be.