‘Blithe Spirit’ sparkles with elegance and wit at Shakespeare Theatre

By Liz Keill

MADISON, NJ – There’s no one quite like Noel Coward for flair and sophistication, as talented actors deliver bon mots and clever, cutting comebacks, often while swirling martinis.

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And so it goes with “Blithe Spirit,” a cream puff of a play about séances, a wife returning from the afterlife and the usual marital clashes that keep this production bubbling along.

Director Victoria Mack, who has often appeared on the Shakespeare Theatre stage, has captured the droll humor from the get-go. Bethany Kay as the maid, Edith, immediately elicits gales of laughter as she attempts to place the cocktail glasses just so and tries to slow down her tendency to rush from room to room.

Her employer, Ruth, does her best to tame this exuberant character. Kate MacCluggage has the cool, clear determination to set things right, despite an evening’s séance that turns into a disaster. Her husband, Charles (Brent Harris), is writing a novel and wants to develop characters who are familiar with ghostly spirits. Enter Madame Arcati (Tina Stafford), the bizarre practitioner of the occult, who conjures spirits from the dead. Stafford is full of spells and erratic activity as she attempts to enter the spirit world. 

Unfortunately, who comes back to haunt the house, but Charles former wife, Elvira, played with spunk and charm by Susan Maris.  Harris is debonair, charming and, it turns out, a bit of a cad, as the plot ultimately reveals. Also attending the séance are Dr. Bradman (Ames Adamson) and his wife, played by Monette Magrath. Poor Mrs. Bradman can’t seem to do anything right, injecting the word ‘funny’ for any untoward event.

The play takes place is the Condomine home in Kent, England, a smart looking set designed by Charlie Calvert. Costumes by Hugh Hanson and lighting by Michael Giannitti add to the posh atmosphere and sense of a 1940’s period. Director Mack observes in program notes that the 1941 play was a huge hit during World War II, when London was being bombarded by the Blitz  Apparently, Coward wrote  the play in six days, which may account for its meandering second act.  

The first act is frothy and fun, while the second act seems to bog down. It may be that the element of surprise has worn thin by then and the material could use some tightening.

Still, it’s hard to conjure better company the Noel Coward for a delightful evening of theatre. Performances of “Blithe Spirit” continue through Sept. 2 at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, located on the campus of Drew University in Madison. For tickets, call 973-408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ.org.