Coach House Theatre’s cast of seven embraces the wit and charm of playwright Noel Coward in the sophisticated comedy Blithe Spirit.
The humorous ghost story is directed by artistic director Nancy Cates, a Coward aficionado who has directed four of his plays previously at Coach House as well as Blithe Spirit in 1998 at Weathervane Playhouse. The story is set in Kent, England, in 1934 at the home of novelist Charles Condomine. He decides to invite a medium to conduct a seance with him, his wife and friends in order to learn some lingo and “tricks of the trade” in the world of the occult.
What starts as a lark changes quickly with medium Madame Arcati’s seance. She’s a colorful character — dressed by costume designer Michael James in a flowing maroon dress and iridescent turban — played with full-on kookiness by Dede Klein. Klein’s Arcati is especially funny as she talks about how specific her diet must be before a seance, yet she eats everything in sight.
The mood starts to become spooky as the lights go down and Arcati reaches a child spirit conduit named Daphne. Things go knock in the night and the seance table shakes violently.
Klein does a crazy, staggering dance to Always, the favorite tune of Charles’ late wife, Elvira. The medium ends up in a trance lying on the floor.
Only Charles, played with charm and humor by Scott Shriner, sees a change: the appearance of his dead wife.
Tess Burgler’s entrance through French doors as the spirit of Elvira is spectacular — a vision of frosty beauty in a silvery nightgown, sheer white robe, and short, wavy, white hair. She portrays a woman of delightfully dry humor who is a bit jaded yet at the same time mischievous, bent on frightening Charles’ current wife Ruth and getting Charles to herself.
The play runs about two hours, 45 minutes with two intermissions. There’s never a dull moment as Ruth, played with a proper tone by lovely Equity actress Anjanette Hall, at first blames Charles for being drunk. She soon reveals her jealous nature once she realizes that a spirit rival is living in the house with her and her husband.
The story becomes a sort of comedy of manners as Charles admonishes Elvira, whom Ruth can’t see, and Ruth thinks her husband is insulting her. Charles even begins to enjoy going on outings with his ghost wife and asks his current wife to be welcoming to her.
The play is full of snappy dialogue as well as numerous sight gags as various characters try to address an Elvira that they can’t see as she moves around the room. And of course, Elvira has a running, sarcastic commentary as Ruth speaks to her husband.
The story escalates, but you’ll have to see the show to learn how.
The Coach House actors do a great job of not registering that they are seeing each other when they’re not supposed to. Sound and special effects are well executed, too, including spirit voices, doors opening and slamming at spirits’ will, and more ectoplasmic mayhem.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj or follow her on Twitter @KerryClawsonABJ.