Carol M. Rice
Noel Coward wrote his “ghostly comedy” Blithe Spirit in just six days. It was first presented in the West End 1941 and ran for a whopping 1,997 performances. A subsequent Broadway production later that year ran for 657 performances, and the play has become a staple of regional and community theatres the world over, not to mention several West End and Broadway revivals.
It’s easy to see why this is such a popular show, and not just because of the comedic plot. In addition to being relatively easy to produce on a single set, the cast of two men and five women is obviously attractive to theatre companies who inevitably have more women than men involved. This is not to say that the roles are easy to play, for they’re not, and because it’s now a period piece – that requires British accents to boot – it’s also not an easy one to direct. The comedy is hard to play with the right touch, and I’ve seen several productions over the years that just didn’t get it.
Fortunately Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s production is not one of those. It was excellent from start to finish. The beautiful set, designed by many-a-hat-wearing Jason Morgan, was elegant and exuded the perfect amount of opulence. The only thing not quite up to snuff was a black wall behind a couple of doors that were supposed to lead outside. The small bushes helped some, but because everything else was SO well done, this was a bit jarring. Bryan Douglas also brought excellent effects to life with the lights. I especially liked the subtle lighting change whenever Elvira entered the room.
Lauren Morgan’s costumes, coupled with Marcus Lopez’s wigs, were wonderful. The overall look of Elvira, especially, was spot on. The maid costume for Edith was adorable, and the other ladies looked haughtily upper-class in their lace and furs, and the men were dashing in tuxes, suits, and dinner jackets. The only costume pieces that didn’t look as though they fit quite right were Madame Arcati’s wild dresses. Her hats and the cape were perfect, however, and since everything else was so good, I wondered if the ill-fitting dresses were a choice since her character was such a, well...character.
Mary Tiner beautifully played Madame Arcati as the larger than life character that she is. She was sincere, boisterous, and a little insane, which is exactly what the role calls for. Without trying, she was able to steal every scene she was in, yet still managed to give her fellow actors their moments as well.
Stacy Cook as Elvira was beautiful, playful, and mischievous. It was obvious upon her entrance that she was otherworldly, and she played up the comedy in all of her scenes masterfully.
Jason Morgan and Stefanie Glenn were Dr. and Mrs. Bradman. These roles are often done as throw-aways, but Mr. Morgan and Ms. Glenn brought new life to the Bradmans and made them memorable and interesting.
Augusta Abene was quite funny as the always running maid Edith. Her look of constant worry and cockney accent were delightful, and since one never knew when she’d break out into another sprint, she was very fun to watch.
Laura M. Jones started off playing Ruth as a confident woman who is well aware that she may not be as attractive as her husband’s first wife, but she’s got him now so it doesn’t matter. Then as Elvira made her way into Charles’ life again, she showed a more vulnerable side in her attempts to keep him. And then, of course, by the end, she was just fed up with it all. Ms. Jones gave a finely layered performance.
Stan Graner plays Charles, an author who invites Madame Arcati over not to get in touch with his first wife, but to get atmosphere for the book he’s writing. Mr. Graner is an accomplished actor and performer and in this role he seemed to be relying on “actor tricks” to get through his scenes instead of allowing his character to grow. However, he was still quite enjoyable to watch.
Co-directors Jason and Lauren Morgan do a fine job with this classic comedy, and it was nice to hear the laughter of the nearly sold out audience enjoying it. The British accents were consistent, too, which is not an easy feat. Blithe Spirit is one of those shows that comes around relatively often, so it would be surprising if you haven’t seen at least one production of it. Stolen Shakespeare Guild’s is one of the best I’ve seen, so if you haven’t seen this classic comedy, this production would be the one to catch. If you have seen it, this would be a good one to revisit.