BLITHE SPIRIT: Review
My first encounter with Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit occurred many decades ago when I was a freshman in college. I was fortunate to secure a position as secretary/receptionist of the speech and theatre department, and I helped to draft and distribute publicity materials for the show. Then I saw it on opening night, and I was hooked. The urbane comedy exceeded my already lofty expectations, and my love for all shows Coward took root.
Now a lifetime later, I find myself in another theatre for another opening of this classic tale of seductive spirits and befuddled mediums. And like that performance eons ago, this one also provides a thrill. Veteran director Shelly Cary has assembled an accomplished cast and deftly handled a witty, very British script that is certain to provide a night’s entertainment.
The plot is simple but ingenious. Charles Condomine (Josh Antoon) fancies himself the most sophisticated of writers. On a lark he enlists a medium to preside over a séance as fodder for a book he is penning. He, his present wife Ruth (Jennie Andrada), and their good friends Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (Paul Brenner and Mace Porac) greet the eccentric spiritualist with a mix of amusement and skepticism. Madame Arcati (Jane Lyons) may be by turns exasperating and inept, yet she has connection to the otherworldliness of poltergeists and restless spirits. Somehow she conjures the ghost of Condomine’s first wife, Elvira (Casey Novak), and the provocative Elvira is more than willing to stay the course. Charles alone can see her, and she takes every opportunity to preoccupy him despite the presence of Ruth and the clumsy but good-natured housemaid (Carrie Knopp).
It might be an old-fashioned television sitcom but for Coward’s razor-sharp wit and skill at creating the most marvelous characters. Stuck between two wives, one very alive and the other very prescient and present, poor Charles is doomed. In the role Antoon, who has become one of the Bobcats’ favorite sons, is easy to watch and easier to enjoy. He is transformed from arrogant persona to bedeviled, henpecked husband, and the transformation is delightful to witness. His loss of control absolutely bewilders him. How can he choose between the provocative Elvira and the devoted, grounded Ruth? How has it happened that he even has to make the choice? And why has that infernal medium done nothing to ease his conflict? Watching Antoon confront his escalating dilemmas is alone worth the price of admission.
Speaking of infernal mediums, Jane Lyons fills the stage every moment she is on. Whether flinging herself with wild abandon into a deep trance or nibbling finger sandwiches and sucking down martinis, she acts with the irrepressible enthusiasm and sheer joy of a small child at play. And at play she is, casting spell after spell and throwing herself into trance after trance to please the Condomines. Lyons roams the stage with boundless energy. Her spontaneous dance to the old standard "Always" is something to behold.
Equally alluring are Andrada and Novak as the wives torturing Charles in tandem. Cary has wisely cast two physical opposites in the roles, and Andrada and Novak are perfect foils for one another. Andrada is grounded, sensible, the perfect hostess who will dress for dinner, oversee cocktails, and humor her husband’s vanity. Her utter lack of jealousy is soundly professed in the first act, then masterfully challenged in the second. Novak, on the other hand, is flighty and flirtatious, whether teasing Charles with honeyed memories of their brief but sweet past or pouting at his reluctance to embrace her presence fully and passionately. Caught between the petite, dark and stormy Ruth and the willowy, fair and whimsical Elvira, Charles likely is doomed. But no spoiler alerts here.
Rounding out the performance in supporting roles are very accomplished Bobcat veterans Paul Brenner and Mace Porac as the Bradmans and newcomer Carrie Knopp as that classic caricature of the Coward maid. It’s a stellar cast that will capture your fancy – and then some.
Add to the excellence of the cast the set, a beautiful English country home, lovingly created by Cary and designer Patty Hamilton, and the sumptuous costumes so evocative of that nostalgic time period, and you have the makings of a wonderful night of theatre. In addition to her stellar cast, Cary has assembled a skilled crew in the booth and in the wings that makes every scene proceed like clockwork.
The real plot surprise comes at the end, and it is unlike anything the Bobcats have produced on the stage before. But, again, no spoiler alerts from yours truly. You’ll just have to see what unravels during the course of this entertainment for yourself. Mark your calendars now. You must see this magical romp between the material and the supernatural. And you must be prepared to suspend your disbelief for the fun of the theatre. In my favorite words from the play, “There are more things in Heaven and on Earth, Mr. Condomine.” See you at the show. . .where you will discover what some of those things precisely are!