FRONT ROW CENTER – December 2010


By Michael Warren

Blithe Spirit
By Noel Coward
Directed by Shirley Appelbaum


front-rowThis is a beautifully staged and professional revival of Noel Coward’s classic “improbable farce” of 1941, featuring connubial love and haunting from beyond the grave. The joke of the play is that the suave novelist “Charles Condomine” unwittingly summons the spirit of his dead first wife “Elvira,” much to the annoyance of his brittle second wife “Ruth.” It’s bigamy with a difference, and confusion abounds since it appears that only Charles can see and chat to Elvira. Though the play’s social attitudes now seem dated and misogynistic, we can still enjoy the smooth dialogue and the digs at phony mediums and spiritualist mumbo-jumbo.

David McIntosh (a newcomer to the LLT stage) plays Charles with considerable skill and an occasional flash of asperity. The play requires him to be a charming foil to the more colorful female characters, and he succeeds so well that in the end we hope that the unfortunate Charles will be happy to be rid of both his wives. The playful and seductive Elvira is well portrayed by Diana Rowland, who floats around the stage in a diaphanous gown. It’s a fun part, and she gets the most out of her humorous lines – for example when she reminisces about playing backgammon with Genghis Khan on “the other side.” Meanwhile Katie B. Goode (in her first full LLT production) has to be snippy as Ruth, who is distinctly unimpressed by Elvira’s return. This is a less sympathetic, but very important role, and Katie handles it well – being in turn a disciplinarian with the maid, an elegant hostess and a jealous wife.

The highlight of the evening is Jeritza McCarter’s performance as the medium   “Madame Arcati.” This is a role entirely suited to Jeritza’s comic talents, and she plays it exactly right, that is to say she plays it straight as an eccentric and slightly loony character. The play lights up as soon as she appears in a glittery shawl and spangled tennis shoes, speaking of ectoplasm and of “Daphne,” her child control on the other side. Initially her incantations fail to bring Elvira back, but then “Edith” the maid peeks in and this seems to make a difference. Joan Lowy – another newcomer to the LLT stage – does well in a minor role as Edith, bustling in and out with trays (which must have been precarious) and finally appearing in pajamas and goofy slippers to assist in banishing the ghosts of Elvira and Ruth. John Foster and Kathleen Morris are also entirely believable in supporting roles as “Dr and Mrs Bradman.”

With the help of a talented cast, Shirley Appelbaum has brought off a triumph with this production, her first at Lakeside. I fancy the ghost (or perhaps the ectoplasm) of Noel Coward was hovering in the wings! The period costumes and delightfully decorated set were straight out of the 1940s. I should also mention the very clever and believable special effects – technically this is a difficult play, and it succeeded brilliantly. One small point – I wondered why the curtain was never closed. With such an attractive set, the initial impact would have been greater if it had been revealed as a wonderful surprise at the opening of the play. But this is a quibble – overall it was a smooth and very professional production, and I congratulate Shirley Appelbaum and the whole cast and crew with a special nod to Stage Managers Kathleen Neal and Win McIntosh. I look forward next month to another farcical comedy Lend Me A Tenor, by Ken Ludwig, which opens on December 11th.

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