By Philip Doyle
Oscar Wilde, Noël Coward, Truman Copote. Three men graced with social super-powers of impeccable timing, fine tuned vocabulary, and a keen sense of perception. These men hold a place in my gay history playbook for two reasons:
1. They could really keep a party going.
2. They no doubt elevated the demand placed on everyone around them to simply keep up. When playing with the big boys of rapier wit you better bring it, or don’t show up at all. The Arvada Center steps up, and meets the challenge.
Blithe Spirit is a fanciful comedy that was quite a sensation when it premiered in London’s West End in 1941. Written by Noël Coward, it is a comedy that embraces a level of social discourse that rises above today’s over simplified communication. A sophisticated and funny foray into an endearing place and time.
The play begins with a round of martinis. Charles Condomine, a novelist looking for material for his new book, has invited some friends over for drinks, dinner, and a séance. More martinis are served, and soon the libation flows as freely as wit.
Things go awry when medium Madame Arcati, breaches the astral plane and summons the ghost of Charles's first wife, Elvira. Charles is the only person who can see Elvira, and his second wife, Ruth, is none to pleased. Ruth thinks her husband has lost his marbles, until she realizes the haunting is for real.
What develops from that point is clever and fun, as Ruth demands that Charles get rid of Elvira, but Elvira has plans of her own.
Director Rod A. Lansberry has dutifully constructed a production of Blithe Spirit that really works. Scenic designer Brian Mallgrave and costume designer Chris Campbell provide the play with perfect atmosphere of time and place.
The entire cast should be commended. Steven Cole Hughes is dashing and has a voice that is a delight to listen to. Kate Berry plays the scorned second wife, Ruth. Berry approaches her character as a devoted and doting wife, who finds herself backed into an impossible otherworldly corner.
Leslie O’Carroll instills the clairvoyant Madame Arcati with grand idiosyncratic zeal. O’Carroll is a comedic force of nature, a perfect storm where an actor’s ability is a perfect match for a character.
It’s always a great pleasure to see the charming Mark Rubald and the talented Alex Ryer. Boni McIntyre as Edith the maid, makes her character an audience favorite.
My highest praise for this production goes to Heather Lacy as the ghostly Elvira, for possessing the stage with enchanting presence and beauty. Lacy’s performance is grand and graceful. She flutters about the stage as if she is lighter than air.
I have had the opportunity to see a few productions of Blithe Spirit, and this current incarnation is the best yet. If you believe in ghosts and the occult, you will sense the presence of Noël Coward in the house; gratified that proper attention has been paid to his work.
Supported with a sure hand by the Arvada Center’s skilled directors, designers, actors and staff, Blithe Spirit will haunt you in the spirit in which Coward intended.
Blithe Spirit at The Arvada Center’s Black Box Theatre runs through February 17th