November 2, 2003


Blithe Spirit

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning















For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.
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Director Lon Bumgarner discovered three ways to bring a fresh look to venerable playwright Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, now on stage at Theatre Charlotte. The first is a monochromatic production, dominated by Brian Ruggaber’s black and white set. The second is casting Laura Depta as the medium Madame Arcati. The third is sex appeal.

High society novelist Charles Condomine, and his second wife Ruth are seeking inspiration and amusement when they invite Madame Arcati to perform a séance in their home. They invite Dr. and Violet Bradman along for kicks, and the four highbrows look forward with amused disdain toward exposing the tricks of the spiritual medium. Instead, Arcati, to both her delight and amazement, summons Charles’ first wife Elvira from the beyond. The catch: no one can see Elvira but Charles.

Blithe Spirit, a British farce that won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Play in 1942, provided welcome comic relief to wartime England. Bumgarner adapts the play for an American audience by cutting some of the lengthy dialogue, and losing both British colloquialisms and accents. He also encourages a lusty interpretation of Madame Arcati, who is often played as a doddering middle-aged goofball.

B. Carl McIntyre is a straightforward Charles; very mannered, slightly pompous, and alternately tickled and perplexed by the demands of two women. His wife Ruth, played by the delightful actress Chandler McIntyre, succeeds with fast-paced dialogue, and sharing the stage with a character we can see, but who is invisible to Ruth. She is also a master of the high-pitched squeal.

But it is Depta’s Madam Arcati who provides the show with unexpected depth. Depta’s east European gypsy accent, bawdy sexual overtures, and wild strutting about the slanted stage while wearing a sweeping cloak are marvelous. She plays the edge between between being mockable and being frighteningly respectable.

As Elvira, Paige Johnston prowls the stage like a lionness stalking her next meal. Her hot as fire red dress exudes sexuality, but her hard eyes, and predatory stance make her seem untouchable. Alan Nelson and Kathryn Burns play the Bradmans with dry wit and nervous hysteria, respectively. Nicia Carla uses the single device of pace to provide physical humor in her portrayal of Edith the maid.

The visually stunning stage takes black and white to the extreme, from elaborate evening wear to white tinged makeup. Madame Arcati’s red lined black cloak, and Elvira’s searing red dress are dramatic, eye-catching departures. While Blithe Spirit is neither scary nor hilarious, it is a solid piece of theatre without a serious moment.

Lynn Trenning, November 2, 2003

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