Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward

A husband’s  nightmare-bickering with the ghosts of two wives.

 

Theatre 9/12 opened Noel Coward’s 1941 Play, Blithe Spirit on Friday night.  Directed by Charles Waxberg, the play concerns one of Coward’s favorite themes: wittily  bickering married couples, and how second marriages fall into some of the same traps as first marriages. 

            In Coward’s original script, the play took place in a country village, probably in the Home Counties, i.e. outside of London, UK.  Instead,  Waxberg set it in a small village outside of Boston, which was a good choice because, in those days East Coast people were quite reserved, proper and formal, like English people of that class and era. 

            Charles Condomine played by Eric Olson, is a successful novelist, who gathers material for his new book, by inviting a clairvoyant Madame Arcati, to a dinner party to have a séance and conjure up the dead.  Unfortunately, the first wife of Condmine is conjured up creating havoc in his second marriage to Ruth. 

In the original West End production and in the film with Rex Harrison, the classic English frump, Margaret Rutherford was cast as Madame Arcati,  Waxberg, wisely chose an actor who emphasized the “exotic” nature of Madame Arcati and who was anything but a frump!  Rachel Pate as Madame Arcati, was a wonderful mixture of beautiful but bizarrely dressed, British accented but with a chesty back-placed voice, which added  a hint of Jamacian voodooism.  Not being English, she was physically and vocally exuberance and her performance served the production well. 

            As Elvira, the ghost of the first wife, Sarah Milici was the epitome of ethereal, and played the part as a spoiled seductress.  Ruth, the second wife, was a practical no-nonsense antidote to Elvira, or so we thought.  Eric Olson as Charles Condomine, was a tad weak in the first act, which I attribute to opening night, because by the end of the first act, he delivered the goods. 

One of the delights of the evening was that the director and tech crew seemed to get all the period details right.  There was authentic 40’s music, an authentic “gramophone”, and scrumptious costumes for the women-those late 30’s slinky evening dresses and shoes to die for. 

The direction was very impressive as this is a difficult play to direct-it is mostly talking, and the director had to deal with having a ghost walking around the drawing room, who cannot be seen or heard by anyone but the husband.  It never looked staged but always “natural” which is easy to do in film but not on the stage.  Some hilarious witty misunderstandings and double entendres ensued from this confusion, which I enjoyed immensely.  Since this is a Pay-What-You-Can, I heartily recommend it.  

 

BLITHE SPIRIT.  By Noel Coward, Directed by Charles Waxberg, Theatre 9/12,  Located in the Parish Hall of Trinity Episcopal Church,  First Hill 609-8th Ave,  First Hill, free parking .  www. Theatre912.com.

 

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