Last weekend the Santa Maria Civic Theatre opened its 53rd season with a Noel Coward classic, “Blithe Spirit.” First performed in London during the start of World War II, the comedy was an escapist farce.
It was quite successful, spawning a film in 1945 starring Rex Harrison, a musical adaptation called “High Spirits” in 1964 and several television versions.
As with most Coward plays, the dialogue is the most important aspect of the play, and the performers must be able to handle the subtle timing and delivery of the words.
Directed by longtime Civic Theatre actor Alan H. Foster, in his directorial debut at the theater, the cast does a fairly good job of handling the difficult dialogue. There are a few misfires as one actress stumbled several times on her lines and another talked too fast, but overall the cast did fine.
Tim McManus plays Charles Condomine, an author researching the occult for a new book. He decides to hold a seance with a local medium to pick up some useful information.
Charles talks his second wife Ruth (Katie Cornell) into participating, as well as his physician, Dr. Bradman (Craig Scott), and his wife, Mrs. Bradman (Linda Scott).
The medium, Madame Arcati, is an eccentric and kooky lady, played quite well by Dixie Arthur. She is a large presence and commands attention when she is on stage.
During the seance, Madame Arcati accidentally brings Elvira, the deceased first wife of Charles, back into the house. Charles is the only one who sees his dead wife and begins to crack under the pressure.
Elvira is played by Angela Hutt-Chamberlin, who delivers her lines in a funny and biting manner. All she wants is Charles to join her in the spirit world, and continues to make his current marriage intolerable.
Elvira’s plan to have Charles join her goes wrong, setting up a whole new set of problems.
“Blithe Spirit” is told in three acts, and Foster does a good job of moving the action along.
McManus is very good as Charles. He seemingly has his life under control, but when Elvira
arrives, his life becomes a shambles, his marriage with Ruth rolls out of control, and his frustration continuously grows. McManus does an excellent job conveying every emotion.
Hutt-Chamberlin is funny as she glides around the stage causing havoc in everything she does, and Arthur as Madame Arcati is genuinely wacky. Cornell also stands out in a humorous way, as her mood grows from bemused apathy to extreme bitterness.
Meagan Kuchan as Edith the maid is cute and silly before
becoming a major plot point late in the play.
The set construction by Cliff Buck is very good, and the uncredited costumes and effects are good.
Of course, any play requiring English accents is a challenge. Adding in the fact that Coward dialogue is even more difficult, for the most part the cast handles them well.
“Blithe Spirit” was last performed at the Civic in the 1994-95 season, and it is a good and funny play that deserves to be revisited every 10-15 years.
Score: B on the Brad-O-Meter