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Noel Coward's 'Hay Fever'

Sometimes in journalism, as in baseball, an interviewer gets three strikes. An awkward parallel and a tired quote in this attempt led to two ‘whiffs.' It was only a conservative final swing that took the ball a bit out of the infield in this interview.

IU faculty member and theater director Murray McGibbon directed IU guest artist Sandra Duncan in the role of Gertrude in a production of Shakespeare's Hamlet in South Africa. Now he's directing her as Judith, the Bliss family matriarch, in Noel Coward's Hay Fever in Bloomington. I asked him about the obvious parallels.

Strike One

"Well, frankly I don't see any similarity whatsoever! Hamlet is a tragedy and Hay Fever is a comedy," Murray McGibbon replied.

Added Sandra Duncan, "And I don't get poisoned in the end."

Strike Two

Since this entre had fallen so totally flat, I backtracked and offered a quote that interviewers and reviewers love to fall back on. In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy writes, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I offered this up to our guests.

"Well," said Duncan, "The Bliss family isn't unhappy at all. In fact they're quite happy."

"Yes," said McGibbon," they are unique, and quite theatrical about it, but I'd agree that they're very happy."

Finally, A Piece Of The Ball

With two strikes against me, I asked McGibbon about the strategy of bringing in a seasoned professional to work with the students. "It's been a remarkable success. The whole production rises as bit as they come up to Sandra's level, or at least try. As you can imagine, having the opportunity of just being on stage with someone of her stature is a terrific experience."

In assessing her effect, Duncan was deferential. "The role of Judith Bliss is one that I know well. I've played it before, but here we have a different ensemble so there are some different feelings. I'm very respectful of my colleagues. I'm happy to, and do, answer questions, but most of my input in simply in playing the role."

An Effervescent Ending

Both McGibbon and Duncan are united in their vision for the play. Using almost the same words, they they describe Hay Fever as "a comedy that bubbles along," and their roles as director and actor as "floating along with the bubbles."

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