note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
In 1941, when Noel Coward wrote his social comedy on trendy spiritual parlor games involving Ouija boards and seances to conjure up the dead, the practice was in full swing. Grieving wives and parents of World War II fallen soldiers wanted to contact their dead husbands and sons. From ancient times, people’s fascination with the paranormal has existed; and even now, people here and across the pond, have held sessions regularly, led by psychic mediums.
Coward has included all the trappings and terms of high society’s dabbling into the occult, poking fun at it, in his play “Blithe Spirit,” which became one of the longest-running plays in London and on Broadway. Since then, it has been revitalized, revived, rejuvenated, and remade into movies, a musical, a TV show, and returned to the stage, over and over again. In fact, Coward played the starring role of Charles Condomine in 1942, relishing his satire from all aspects.
Obviously, the play doesn’t lose its appeal, regardless of time, because it pokes fun at the unseen, unknown, and oft-unspoken subject of calling up the dead and communicating with them. “Blithe Spirit” also allows a talented cast the opportunity to enjoy their antics on stage and run wild with their roles, which this star-studded cast, directed by Lyric Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos, does successfully.
The story involves author Charles Condomine (blithely played by Richard Snee) who is gathering information for a book he’s writing and invites a couple over to attend a seance led by Madame Arcati, weirdo, offbeat, bicycle-riding medium. All hell breaks loose when Arcati feels “ectoplasm,” or spiritual material, in the air. She slumps into a trance, the table shakes and tips violently, the lights blow out, windows burst open, and Charles‘ flamboyant first wife, Elvira (Snee’s real wife, Lynn native Paula Plum) enters airily into the room, but only he can see her. Elvira, who died seven years ago, misses Charles, resents his new wife of five years, her no-nonsense foil, Ruth (Anne Gottlieb) and creates ghostly havoc, mischief and mayhem, while attempting to get Charles back.
Since Ruth can’t see Elvira, she mistakenly thinks Charles is insulting her, ordering her to shut up and go away - until he proves Elvira’s presence to her. Charles then calls Arcati back, over and over again, to exorcise Elvira out of the house. That’s when fate’s fickle finger lends a detour, and the story ends with a comedic twist.
Although time and the action fly swiftly during the play, I question if it needs three acts. Overall, the cast is phenomenal, but petite Kathy St. George as eccentric Madame Arcati is so outrageous and animated, she drew applause in every scene. I’m not nit-picking, but she dropped her faux British accent several times. Nobody cared, though, because of her over-the-top zany antics.
Brynna Bloomfield’s parlor is functional and inelegant; Charles Schoonmaker’s costumes are fabulously 1940s, while Plum’s ethereal silvery garb and wig and St. George’s multi-colored gypsy get-ups are super. Arshan Gailus’ sound effects bridge the gap between the netherworld and the earthly; and everyone’s crackerjack timing leaves no gag unturned.
Versatile actress Sarah deLima as Mrs. Bradman, Arthur Waldstein as her husband, Dr. Bradman, and Anna Waldon as maid Edith, who runs, never walks, add to the fun; while the lovely strains of Leigh Barrett’s voice infuse musical interludes, with her recording of nostalgic tune, “Always,” and other selections.
BOX INFO: Three-act comedy by Noel Coward, appearing now through June 6 at Lyric Stage Company of Boston,140 Clarendon St., Boston. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; matinees, first and fourth Wednesday at 2 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday matinees, 3 p.m.; no show May 30. Tickets are $25-$50. Group sales, senior and student discounts also available. Call the Box Office at 617-585-5678 or visit www.lyricstage.com.