Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Theater review: Sing along with the comedically haunting ghosts of Blithe Spirit
The musical runs through October 20 at Theatre Coppell.
COPPELL There was a chill in the air as I arrived at Theatre Coppell to see Blithe Spirit. A fitting atmosphere for the play which brings its audience into the home of Charles Condomine, an author, and his wife, Ruth, on the evening they have invited a psychic, Madame Arcati, to perform a séance.
Noël Coward penned the play over the course of five days in 1941, and the play debuted in London shortly thereafter. It hit Broadway later that same year and was adapted for a film starring Rex Harrison in 1945. The play was revived on Broadway in 1964 as a musical. It was adapted for television and radio in the '50s and '60s and enjoyed several Broadway revivals, the latest being in 2009. Coward meant Blithe Spirit to be an escapist comedy to provide audiences with entertainment during bleak wartimes.
As I entered the theater, I was immediately struck by the extraordinary set. The thrust proscenium had been transformed into the heavily furnished living room of the Condomines, complete with stone fireplace, petite grand piano, seating, fully-stocked bar and tables set up and ready for the guests for the evening. The detail was impressive, with every shelf, every corner and every wall richly decorated befitting the status of the home’s inhabitants. The ceiling included a hanging lamp dropped from a stylish molding. This detail gave me the first glimpse into the attention that Set Designer Robert Batson and the production crew put into the presentation.
With no introduction, the peppy sound of “It’s De-Lovely” filled the theater and the show began with campy housekeeper, Edith, fluttering onto the stage. Michele Crow’s performance as Edith began with high energy and hilarity and her appearances on stage continued with that same energy throughout the show. Her presence was always a delight and Crow fed the audience’s need for laughter with a campy and goofy persona, never going over the top.
The setting for the play is England in 1939. Costuming was not necessarily period, with Mrs. Bradman often wearing dresses which hit a little too high on the knee and Mrs. Condomine wearing evening dresses which skewed towards the '70s. However, the costume designs by Costumes by Dusty were well-planned and included appropriate changes as the action progressed. Many of the women wore sparkly jackets with knee or full-length dresses. The ghosts wore contemporary and flowing beige knee-length dresses with sparkly scarves covering their heads. The men wore tuxedos on the evening of the séance and Charles had a nicely bold red smoking jacket when relaxing in his home.
The strongest performance of the evening was that of Laura Jones in the role of Ruth Condomine. From the first moment she appeared on stage until the last, her character, including an English accent, remained consistent and strong. Jones depiction of Ruth was just the right mixture of strength, assertiveness and likeability. Through Jones skillful portrayal, Ruth commanded respect from everyone who entered her home without being overbearing.
Another entertaining performance was that of Madame Arcati, by Sandy Edwards. Edwards had a consistent accent and steady, eccentric energy as she flamboyantly fell into trances and channeled her young control. Costuming for Madame Arcati was entertaining in itself as she was always brightly and lavishly dressed with sparkles, feathers, and lots of color.
Charles Condomine, played by Greg English, was at first depicted as a mild-mannered author with a somewhat domineering wife. As the play progressed, English’s portrayal revealed subtle changes in the character to provide a hint as to the real persona lurking underneath.
Madame Arcati inadvertently brings the ghost of Condomine’s first wife Elvira into the home and Sheila Gilchrist personified the ethereal character well. With flowing movements at all times, a mixture of childish temper tantrums and alluring sensuality, Gilchrist delivered a fun performance.
The trio of the Condomines and Elvira were very well cast, as they performed as a well-oiled machine. Additionally, Ruth and Elvira’s features made it easy for the audience to see the connection Condomine made when choosing his first two wives. It is to Director Wheelice Wilson, Jr. that the credit for bringing together such a dynamic cast belongs.
The Condomine’s had guests in their home the evening of the séance, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, played by Paul Phillips and Connie Salsman, respectively. The performances of the Bradmans were somewhat weak and bland although they were always where they needed to be and prompt to deliver their lines when necessary to keep the action going.
Lighting design by Bryant Yeager was appropriate to most scenes. The living room was well-lit through the majority of the play. During the séance scenes, the lighting dropped perhaps a little too low, with the action on the stage being very difficult to observe. A nice touch was a slight change in lighting color, accompanied by just a little stage smoke whenever a ghost was about to appear.
Special effects were credited to Steve LeMay and Tim Addison. To these gentlemen, I direct well-deserved kudos for the play’s impressive ending scene. I won’t spoil the details but I will report that I heard several audience members wondering, “How did they do that?”
Blithe, according to Google, means “showing a casual and cheerful indifference." Theatre Coppell’s production of Blithe Spirit provides its audience with a casual and cheerful evening of laughs and the escape author Coward intended when he jotted down the play. If spending an October evening exploring a blend of the supernatural and dry, English humor is on your agenda, this production is at the ready to provide you with a thoroughly entertaining evening.
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