Cygnet Theatre in Old Town has wrapped its annual two-shows-in-repertory project around Noël Coward, and that’s a security blanket. Ninety years after they were written, Coward’s Hay Fever and The Vortex remain quick-witted drawing-room theater. An appealing ensemble of nine performs in both productions.
Hay Fever is by far the more engaging and cohesive of the two. Rob Lutfy directs Coward’s blissfully wry comedy about the Bliss household and the bemused guests who join them for a weekend of eating, drinking, smoking, parlor games, flirtation and theater. That’s right, theater. Doyenne Judith Bliss (Rosina Reynolds) is an over-emotive stage actress on supposed hiatus, and it’s not surprising when every situation under the roof, with the guests or with her husband (Paul Eggington), son (Charles Evans, Jr.) and daughter (Rachel VanWormer), becomes another opportunity for Judith to chew the scenery. The statuesque Reynolds is a sheer delight in so doing.
The first act, which serves to introduce all the characters and their quirks, takes its own good time, but once the full ensemble (also including Jill Van Velzer, AJ Jones, James Saba and Lauren King Thompson as the houseguests, and Rhona Gold as cranky housekeeper Clara) is onstage together, sparks and quips fly, with the double-takes as funny as the lines. This is a hay fever worth catching.
The Vortex, on the other hand, is a darker affair. This rarely produced play, directed here by Sean Murray, is less witty than classic Coward, and its underlying melodrama comes off more like dressed-up soap opera. The “wild” party scenes (in this adaptation updated from the ’20s to the swingin’ ’60s) with the cast dancing as if in some disco may induce shudders. Antihero Nicky Lancaster’s (Evans) drug-induced tantrums don’t elicit much sympathy. Reynolds is nevertheless gorgeous and charismatic as Nicky’s vainglorious mother, Florence, and Van Velzer provides solid, and restrained, support as Flo’s best friend, Helen. The sets for both shows, designed by Sean Fanning, and Peter Herman’s wigs and makeup contributions add to the festive atmosphere and charming trips back in time.
Hay Fever and The Vortex run through Nov. 8 at the Old Town Theatre. $34-$49. cygnettheatre.com
Bright Half Life: The West Coast premiere of the dramedy about a lesbian couple told in snap shot scenes spanning 40 years. Written by Tanya Barfield, it opens Oct. 29 at the Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest. diversionary.org
Sea of Souls: A world premiere musical about a ’60s folk singer who returns home to West Virginia only to discover strange facts about her parent’s death. Presented by ion Theatre, it opens for six performances on Oct. 30 at the BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
End of the Rainbow: The Tony-nominated drama about the final days of Judy Garland that features some of her more beloved songs. Presented by Intrepid Theatre Company, it opens Nov. 1 at the Lyceum Space Theatre in the Gaslamp. intrepidtheatre.org
Historias Tenebrosas: Readings of folklore and scary tales performed on multiple stages in celebration of Dia de los Muertos. Presented by Amigos del Rep, it happens on Nov. 2 at the Lyceum Space Theatre in the Gaslamp. sdrep.org
Annie: A redheaded orphan sings and dances her way to a better life. Directed by original lyricist and director Martin Charnin, it opens Nov. 3 at the Civic Theatre in the Gaslamp. broadwaysd.com
The Glass Menagerie : Tennessee Williams' classic play about a Southern family whose lives change forever when a gentleman caller comes to, well, call. It runs through Oct. 31 at the Onstage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.info
Mary Poppins : The popular musical about a singing, dancing nanny who changes the lives of two children in '30s London. Based on the popular Disney movie and presented by JHCompany Youth Theatre, it runs through Nov. 1 at the David and Dorothea Garfield Theatre in La Jolla.
The Weir : Set in a pub in Ireland, Conor McPhersonís acclaimed play centers on the arrival of a woman to the typically male-heavy bar and the spooky stories the patrons try to tell her. It runs through Nov. 1 at the New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Hay Fever : Noël Coward's classic comedy about a retired stage actress, her writer husband, their eccentric children, and a weekend get-together gone awry. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Nov. 8 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Stage Fright : A film critic is drugged and kidnapped, only to wake up and find the actors heís disparaged in the past are extracting their revenge. Written by Charles Marowitz, it runs through Nov. 8 at Lamplighterís Community Theatre in La Mesa. lamplighterslamesa.com
The Vortex : Noël Coward's scandalous comedy about an aging socialite and her son who are forced to confront some hard truths about themselves when their respective lovers leave them. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Nov. 8 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Chapatti : The West Coast premiere of the comedy about two Irish animal-lovers who cross paths and start to remember the importance of human companionship. Directed by Tony Award-winner Judith Ivey, it runs through Nov. 15 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org