The Bliss Family from left to right: Schedel Luitjen as Simon, Cheryl Tanner as Judith, Hannah Palmer as Sorel. Courtesy of the Boerne Community Theatre

From William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” to Seth MacFarlane’s “Family Guy,” the dysfunctional family has pressed the Anglophone imagination to its most compelling and popular dramatic works.

This month, the Boerne Community Theatre’s production of

Coward’s 1925 “Hay Fever” walks this generic and historic tightrope into greatness.

Cheryl Tanner leads the cast as Judith Bliss, an aging starlet and matriarch of the well-off Bliss family. Anxious to return to the theater and reassert her waning career, Judith has invited a young admirer to spend the weekend at the family’s country home outside London.

Her husband David Bliss (Michael Duggan) is the reclusive author of kitschy romance novels, and has coincidentally invited his latest muse down as well. Worse still, son Simon (Schedel Luitjen) and daughter Sorel (Hannah Palmer) have summoned devotees of their own.

Though already very funny, “Hay Fever” transcends its silly plot of four cramped and simultaneous affairs. And it does so by giving its lovers exactly what they wish for: intimacy–intimacy onto madness. Think “Malcolm in the Middle” meets “The Homecoming.” “Seinfeld” meets “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.”

The Boerne production is so successful because it captures an all-too-familiar lunacy: the best and worst of life at home.

What relevance could an English play written in 1925 staged in 2017 about family have for audiences, for families, living almost a century apart?

To answer this question, I brought a family to the theater.

A family of one, anyway.

Ashley McDaniel, a UTSA junior majoring in modern languages with an emphasis in German, is three months pregnant with her first child.

As a single, first-time mother living at home, Ashley, like many students, walks between the life she has always known and a new life that is about to begin.

We meet over salad a few hours before show time at The Dodging Duck Brewhaus a few blocks away from the theater.

“When I was twelve, my dad hit it big in the stock market and my parents moved out here to Boerne to build their dream house,” Ashley tells me.

Using a realtor’s website, she walks me virtually around the eight-acre property. First through the now-empty stables where her twin sister rode horses. Now into her father’s study, with its hidden door leading to a mirror-walled exercise room.

Then, to the edge of the in-ground swimming pool. And lastly to the Rapunzel-style window of her childhood bedroom.

“My parents never got along. Never. When I was sixteen or seventeen my parents got divorced and sold the house just like that,” Ashley says.

The realty site lists the house as unsold for the past ten years.

“It’s kind of sad to see it empty like that.”

At twenty-eight, today Ashley is a tall and broad-shouldered woman.

Breeching dolphins, diving whales, and a forest of pale, self-inflicted scars mark the shift from adventure into hardship and back again.

“Sometimes it feels like I’ve lived a bunch of different lives in one,” Ashley says.

To demonstrate her point, Ashley flips through her Facebook. Many photos there capture her years spent with Sea Shepard.

“Yup. My life has changed a lot since when I was young,” Ashley laughs.

While sifting through photographs, she pauses over one of herself arm-in-arm with a young man.

“This one was taken right over there.”

Ashley points over her shoulder to the banks of the Guadalupe River that runs molasses through the heart of Boerne.

“That’s where my ex-husband and I got married.”

“Ex-husband? Where is he now?” I ask.

“Back in Germany.”

Later that night, during the play, Sorel Bliss shrieks, “We’re a beastly family, and I hate us,”

On my left, I hear Ashley chuckle at the line.

The New York Times reviewed a 1985 revival of “Hay Fever” as “spun out of the thinnest and most dizzying of air,” “an evening of intoxicating escape.”

And there is something about the unreality of a play, and of theatre overall, that speaks to the child in all of us, the part that likes to be dizzy, who longs to escape into a fantastic tale.

Later, under the glow of the Boerne Community Theatre marquee, I ask Ashley what she thought about the play.

“It made me think about family,” Ashley responded. “The Bliss family are crazy, but every family is crazy in their own way.”

I ask if the play made her think about her upbringing, if she plans to raise her child any differently.

“That’s a hard question,” she says,“I mean, coming from a sort-of broken home myself, I want some things to be different for my baby. But in other ways I wouldn’t want to do anything differently. I turned out crazy, but I’m also just fine.”

Similarly for this critic, “Hay Fever” seems to criticize the possibility—and desirability—of an escape from ourselves. The fun shines through in this month’s family-centered farce. But the delightful unreality of “Hay Fever” has as its deepest roots in the all-too-concrete reality of our imperfect personal histories defined by the lives of others.

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