Review: A Lively And Funny 'Blithe Spirit' At Elements

By: Hadley Whalen

Topics: Local Theater

Stephanie Haig, Phoenix Catlin and Zachary Clark in “Blithe Spirit” at Elementary Theater Company. HANS OLSEN PHOTO

Elements Theater Company is doing what it does best in Noël Coward’s “Blithe Spirit,” with spot-on accents, perfect diction and impeccable attention to historical detail. Written during World War II, the comedy of manners was an effort by the playwright to provide a lighter perspective on death by borrowing elements from the supernatural and romantic comedy.

The play opens on wealthy couple Ruth and Charles Condamine lounging in their opulent sitting room, engaged in witty banter about their previous marriages, the subject of Charles’ first wife, Elvira, coming up frequently. The Condamines have invited the mysterious local medium, Madame Arcati, and another couple over for a dinner party. With neither couple believing in the occult, both expect Arcati to be the entertainment for the evening.

The dinner guests include Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, played by Brad Lussier and Sr. Diana Shannon, respectively. Shannon portrays Mrs. Bradman’s giddy excitement about the occult, while Lussier plays up the doctor’s skeptical nature.

Sr. Danielle Dwyer plays the quirky Madame Arcati, who insists on riding her bicycle everywhere, even at night. When her supernatural abilities are questioned, Arcati proclaims that she has been a “professional” for many years, declaring, much to the bewilderment of the other characters, that she had “her first trance when she was four, and her first ectoplasmic manifestation when she was five-and-a-half.”

Dwyer captures the medium’s idiosyncratic nature and is hilarious at many points, most notably while carrying out a seance in which she flails about the stage as though moved by an unseen supernatural force, making strange gestures and noises along with amusing facial expressions.

The lighthearted evening takes an unexpected turn as Charles accidentally summons the ghost of his first wife, a situation highly complicated by the fact that only he can see or hear her, and that she enjoys playing tricks on the other members of the household.

Zachary Clark masterfully presents Charles’ turbulent emotional state as he attempts to cope with the reappearance of Elvira and is highly emotive through the character’s more manic phases, as he struggles to explain to Ruth what is happening while she naturally believes her husband is going mad.

As the no-nonsense Ruth, Sr. Phoenix Catlin challenges her husband’s “didactic” views on women, while simultaneously conveying her insecurities when compared to Elvira. She comically expresses her increasing frustrations with the antics of Elvira, who enjoys tormenting Charles’ new wife.

Stephanie Haig is the spirit of Elvira, appearing ghostly in pale makeup and a diaphanous white dress. She portrays both the flirtatious side of Elvira, as she attempts to win Charles over once again, and her cunning nature.

The bumbling and bewildered maid Edith, played by Sarah Hale, adds another level of physical comedy to the show as she has a tendency to run about the house, often crashing into furniture or dropping trays, much to the amusement of the audience.

The talented cast of seven maintains subtle yet flawless British accents throughout the performance, the main characters easily portraying the pretentious and affected airs of the elite.

The authentic costumes add another layer to the period piece, as most characters appear in several elegant outfits befitting of the formal drawing room.

The immersive set completes the piece, including an entire foyer that can be seen through the living room doorway, a baby grand piano, and a crystal chandelier which hangs as a centerpiece in the middle of the stage. In addition, the room holds many hidden surprises, which the spirits avail themselves of in the hilarious and lively grand finale.

Elements’ two-and-a-half-hour “Blithe Spirit” is a noteworthy tribute to Noël Coward’s highbrow British humor.

 

Details:

“Blithe Spirit”

At Elements Theater Company, Paraclete House at the Community of Jesus

Through July 29

Information and reservations: 508-240-2400