Blithe Spirit

Noel Coward's deliciously funny drawing room comedy has aged well

Germany was bombing London to bits when British playwright Noël Coward wrote Blithe Spirit in 1941. The play was meant to evoke laughter from its war-worn audience -- and it did, running successfully for five years straight. Over the last six decades, the satiric drawing room comedy has aged well; it's still deliciously light fare and incredibly funny. High-society snob Charles Condomine and his second wife, Ruth, invite the local kooky medium to their home to hold a séance. But they're skeptics and have invited her only for selfish purposes (Charles is writing a new novel that involves a fortuneteller type and wants to use Madame Arcanti merely for research). The séance works better than expected, however, and Charles' first wife, Elvira (who died seven years prior from a heart attack brought on by a BBC musical program), returns from the dead in an ectoplasmic manifestation. She proceeds to sabotage his marriage -- and his life. A spoof on ghosts, rich folk, and cucumber sandwiches, Blithe Spirit is a delightful demonstration of wit, immaculately constructed and served up as a volley of smart, bitchy one-liners. Gregory Wallace is quick-minded and bitingly comical as the self-indulgent Charles, who declares himself an "astral bigamist" when Elvira (a feisty René Augesen) comes back from the grave; Shona Tucker is an appropriately uptight and exasperated Ruth. Director Charles Randolph-Wright sets a swift pace for the script's clever wordplay but goes overboard with some goofy stage business. For example, the maid's speed-freakish hyperactive tendencies are admirably slapstick at first but soon get old, and the eclectic, middle-aged hippie chick Madame Arcanti takes the physical comedy a tad too far, practicing half-assed yoga poses as she prepares to conjure spirits. Despite these quibbles, ACT handles the production exceptionally well. But it's Coward's sharp tongue that gives the play juice and keeps it so smartly silly.

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