BLITHE SPIRIT, the hit comedy by Noel Coward brings a spirited performance to the stage of The North Coast Repertory Theatre through September 30th.
It all begins when Charles (J.Todd Adams) wants to hold a séance in his house to observe for his next novel. His supportive, if proper wife Ruth (Joanna Strapp) throws a party inviting their friends Dr. Bradman (Gil Berry) and Mrs. Bradman (Ava Burton) to come participate with village eccentric and medium Madame Arcati (Susan Denaker) leading it. Now if Ruth can just get their maid Edith (Michelle Marie Trester) to do her duties at a sensible pace and not at a full run the evening will go perfectly.
Alas, when dealing with the supernatural nothing is as easy as it seems and the séance brings the ghost of Charles’ first wife Elvira (Teagan Rose) back into the house, but only Charles can see her. Elvira is so pleased at her abilities to meddle from beyond that she just may never go home.
Like other Noel Coward plays, this one is a bit cynical on the subject of love and marriage, especially amongst the sophisticated set. This play is full of witty banter, and droll humor swimming in dry martinis. There is a distinct vein of sophisticated misogyny running through it, most notably as Charles spouts his opinions and assumptions about how his past wife and current wife would get along.
Adams enjoyably walks the line of sophisticated charm and easily swayed buffoonery that makes Charles’ characters choices propels the plot forward. Rose is mischievous and adorable as Elvira, and provides a charming and frivolous foil to Strapp’s ever sensible Ruth. Honestly, who wouldn’t behave like Elvira; flittering around, moving items, playing to Charles’ ego to get him to do what you want, and just trying to find the best ways to amuse myself in this situation? What else are you going to do if you’ve got all of eternity to spend in your old home with your ex-husband and his new wife?
Ruth is a practical person, but as written she can easily come off as shrewish when really, she’s just trying to deal with an increasingly crazy situation. Strapp is a marvelous straight man for all of those joking around her. Luckily, she also gets some of the best lines of the play and delivers them with the utmost aplomb. Let’s face it, she’s making the most of the situation. She tried to support her husband’s harebrained idea and look what it got her? I don’t blame her for getting a bit sharp-tongued and exasperated with the whole thing.
Denaker is delightfully unconventional as the befuddled medium. Trester as Edith is the sweet if slightly dim maid who can’t seem to figure out what is going on in this house, or how to move about without going full speed ahead. Berry and Burton as the Bradman’s are a sweet example of the marriage Charles never had with either wife.
The set by Marty Burnett is lovely, and worthy of the pride in which Ruth has in it. Costume design by Elisa Benzoni is top notch, Elvira’s ghostly ensemble is beautiful, and Ruth’s dresses are gorgeous and true to the period. Sound design and the table movements of the séance really drive home the period feel, especially with “Always” playing on the gramophone.
This production is much too long and the audience the day I saw it was getting restless. A solid edit would help the play keep its momentum.
Love triangles and failed romances are showcased in many of Coward’s work, but with this play viewed through the lenses of death and eternity, it makes one think maybe he thought marriage might be the worse option between the two. Either way BLITHE SPIRIT is full of supernatural fun.
BLITHE SPIRIT is playing at the North Coast repertory Theatre through September 30th. For ticket and show time information go to www.northcoastrep.org