note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Caroline Burlingham Ellis
Special to Theater Mirror
For the Noel Coward classic comedy “Blithe Spirit,” director D Schweppe has assembled some of the Vokes Players’ most beloved actors and designers. The expressive David Berti plays the doubly henpecked husband, Charles Condomine, whose first wife, Elvira (Melissa Sine), returns from the dead after a seance. Longtime Vokes Player Pamela Mayne is Ruth, Charles’s current wife, and regulars Robert Zawistowski and Anne Damon are Dr. Bradman, a medical neighbor skeptical of seances, and his twittery, ditzy wife.
Charles, a novelist, is planning a new murder mystery featuring a medium who communicates with the dead. To research the subject, he hires medium and local eccentric Madame Arcati (Elyse Cronyn) to hold a seance in his house. Charles invites the Bradmans to join the fun but warns them not to laugh. The medium is serious about her art and has no clue that she is being used for research. The four seance participants regard psychic phenomena and reaching “the other side” as a great joke, possibly a fraud. It is not clear what the one other character, befuddled servant Edith (Bethany Boles), thinks. Hopelessly clumsy and inept, she is focused primarily on avoiding a scolding form Ruth.
Madame Arcati arrives for the evening and soon goes into a trance. She reveals that someone is trying to contact Charles from the other side. Unbelieving but nevertheless anxious, he responds, “Tell them to leave a message.” After some back-and forth with a child spirit who is supposed to fetch deceased people for the medium, it appears that no one is coming. Madame Arcati expresses her disappointment, and the party breaks up. Charles is left feeling puzzled and uneasy.
A slight breeze rattles the double doors leading outside, and a shimmering, silvery Elvira enters. Visible only to her astonished husband, Elvira teases and taunts until he is shouting with exasperation. His current wife, Ruth, assumes Charles is addressing her. (“Shut up,” Charles shouts at Elvira. “How dare you speak like that to me?” cries the indignant Ruth.) The domestic situation goes downhill from there. When Elvira walks a vase across the room, Ruth is finally convinced that Charles is neither pretending nor insane, and she resigns herself--at least temporarily--to a goofy menage a trois.
Berti once again demonstrates his deft grasp of comedy with his portrayal of the bewitched, bothered and bewildered Charles. Sine is a perky, playfully trouble-making Elvira. The roller coaster of their original marriage is revisited, with Charles swinging between irritation, affection, delight and anger. When Elvira pulls a disastrous trick, however, Charles makes up his mind that he has to find a way to send her back to the beyond. Elvira feels hurt. “Even an ectoplasmic manifestation deserves a little milk of human kindness,” she whimpers.
A particularly charming characterization in the Vokes production was Boles’s Edith, who ratcheted up the level of hilarity in the denouement. At one point she delivered a weird, trancelike rendition of the song “Always” that had the audience in stitches.
The Condomines’ handsome country house in Kent, designed by Stephen McGonagle, is a character in itself and plays an active role in the effervescent Vokes finale. The elegant living room, with its aqua wall covering and fine wood molding, its piano, graceful furniture, framed photographs (including one of Beatrice Herford), tall bookcases, sconces, art, knickknacks, flowers, fireplace, pocket doors) is a delight. Clare Moschella and Janis Galligan deserve praise for the realistic variety of props. And Eileen Bouvier’s costumes also had flair, with Madame Arcati’s Chuck Taylor high tops, for example, humorously finishing off one of the medium’s silk ensembles.
The smoothly shifting lighting (seances need near darkness) was by Besty Burr, and Jack Wickwire designed both the makeup and the sound. Jean Williams was hair designer. The overall production was in the capable hands of producer Donnie Baillargeon, who also is president of the Beatrice Herford Theatre’s Second Century Fund. (Baillargeon gave a pre-show pitch for preservation of Herford’s photographs of famed figures such as Edwin Booth, monologuist Cornelia Otis Skinner, Dickens inspiration Ellen Terry and “Secret Garden” author Frances Hodgson Burnett.)
“Blithe Spirit” runs at Vokes through Aug. 4. For information, call (508) 358-4034 or go to http://www.vokesplayers.org.