I’ve said it before, and it still holds true – they just don’t write plays like this anymore. Noël Coward’s side-splittingly hilarious comedy Blithe Spirit is now playing at A Noise Within’s Glendale theater and is a guaranteed evening of mirth.
When a socialite novelist Charles Condomine, (Scott Lowell) and his wife Ruth (Jill Van Velzer) invite a medium named Madame Arcati (Jane Macfie) and two friends, Dr. Bradman (Gibby Brand) and Mrs Bradman (Jacque Lynn Colton), over for a séance, it all sounds like a fun romp for the skeptical quartet and their eccentric guest. Ostensibly hoping to gather material for his next book, Charles is unprepared when the scheme works all too well. The hapless Charles gets a whole lot more than he bargained for when the sexy, temperamental ghost of his first wife Elvira (Abby Craden) shows up. Elvira makes continual attempts to disrupt Charles’s marriage to his second wife, Ruth, who can neither see nor hear the ghost. Chaos and hilarity ensues.
Directed by Damaso Rodriguez, A Noise Within’s production is a faithful rendition of this marvelous mid-20th century comedy. The witty banter flies back and forth at a furious pace and the entire cast proves they are more than capable at maintaining the lively tempo, even as the scenario increasingly becomes more frenetic. While it’s almost impossible to single out any of the actors – all are superb, especially at reproducing authentic-sounding British accents – the character of the burly, inept maid Edith (Alison Elliot) adds yet another layer of amusement and Elliot does a fantastic job with the role.
Kurt Boetcher’s gorgeous drawing room set, with its massive archway of French doors, fluttery diaphanous draperies and moving parts (you’ll have to see the play to get what I mean) is all the more impressive when you remember that this production is playing in repertory with Measure for Measure and Great Expectations.
It’s so much fun watching the sly Elvira try to work her charms on her former husband, attempting to woo him anew as his present wife grows more intolerant and glacial by the minute.
According to a comment on the imdb.com, Noël Coward wrote this play while enjoying a vacation in Wales with his friend Joyce Carey.
Blithe Spirit was first staged at London’s Piccadilly Theatre, on the West End, in 1941 and set a new long-run record for non-musical British plays with its almost 2,000 performances. The play did well on Broadway later that year, gaining eight Tony Award nominations but losing to Hello Dolly! Coward also directed a musical adaptation, High Spirits on Broadway in 1964.
Blithe Spirit was also filmed numerous times, as TV movies in 1946, 1948, 1956 and 1966, but is perhaps best known as the theatrically released feature film from 1945 starring Rex Harrison. Coward produced the film and co-wrote the screenplay with his director David Lean. Both Margaret Rutherford and Kay Hammond reprised their West-End roles for the film version.
Incidentally, it’s important to note that Rex Harrison never played Charles Condomine on stage and was apparently criticized severely by Noël Coward for not having the required comic timing and being too “straight.” The light feeling of the original play comes over well, however, despite a heavily re-worked ending.
Appearing in the first stage production as Madame Arcati, the genuine psychic, Rutherford originated the role that Coward had envisaged and shaped for her. She would carry her portrayal of Madame Arcati to the screen adaptation. Not only would this become one of Rutherford’s most memorable screen performances – with her cycling about the Kentish countryside, her cape fluttering behind her – but it would establish the model for portraying that pseudo-soothsayer forever thereafter.
Currently playing in repertory along with Measure for Measure and Great Expectations, Blithe Spirit closes on Friday, December 17, 2010.
Sunday, October 10, 2 pm
Saturday, November 6, 8 pm
Sunday, November 7, 2 pm
Sunday, November 7, 7 pm
Saturday, November 20, 2 pm
Saturday, November 20, 8 pm
Sunday, November 28, 2 pm
Thursday, December 2, 8 pm
Friday, December 3, 8 pm
Saturday, December 11, 8 pm
Sunday, December 12, 2 pm
Wednesday, December 15, 8 pm
Thursday, December 16, 8 pm
Friday, December 17, 8pm
A Noise Within
234 South Brand Blvd.,
Glendale, CA 91204
$46 (Friday and Saturday evenings, Sunday matinees);
$42 (Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings, Saturday matinees);
Group rates and special rates for school groups available
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Review by Pauline Adamek