Blithe Spirit and Early To Bed
by Michael Dale - March 22, 2009
One of the many delights of director Michael Blakemore's revival of Noel Coward's giddily funny 1941 froth, Blithe Spirit, is that this 2009 production looks like it could have been seen in the play's premiere year. No doubt contemporary Broadway theatre can provide more spectacular ways for an actress playing a ghost to enter a room than to just have her walk through the French windows. And certainly if an invisible spirit chooses to destroy her husband's drawing room, modern technology can whip up a few tricks more gasp-inducing than simply having a picture frame fall and a bookshelf topple over. But when you have one of the English language's great comedies played by a company that excels in the verbal dexterity of the playwright's wit, there's no need for such distractions.
Coward claims to have written Blithe Spirit in only five days - writing from beginning to end without ever going back and cutting only two lines before the play's West End premiere - and it would be just plain rude to doubt his word. The one-set comedy takes place in the home of novelist Charles Condomine (designed with simple elegance by Peter J. Davison) and his second wife, Ruth. Researching the occult for his newest book, Charles has invited a rather dotty medium, Madame Arcati, to hold a séance in their home; expecting no more than a chance to pick up the proper jargon and catch her committing what he assumes to be the tricks of the trade. What nobody expects is for the séance to bring the spirit of Charles' first wife, Elvira, back to her former home.
After the disappointing reception for Deuce, the 2007 Terrence McNally play which was Angela Lansbury's first Broadway appearance in 24 years, it's good to see the radiant stage charmer working her magic in a vehicle more worthy of her talents. Though Madame Arcati has the least amount of stage time of the play's four leading roles, Ms. Lansbury takes steady control of every moment she's on with an adorable daffiness that that spins out of her character's serious devotion to her profession. When her voice isn't dancing with eccentric musicality her feet do the job, dancing her way into trances with absurd and wonderful arm flutters and kicks that should be the envy of any Broadway choreographer.
But this is by no means a one-star affair. As the novelist Charles, Rupert Everett nearly makes a full-length comedy out of how impossibly handsome and impeccably groomed he looks in his dinner tux. He coolly underplays his funniest comments with hilarious results until Elvira's presence causes the steady exterior to occasionally quiver. As Ruth, Jayne Atkinson makes high comedic art out of playing straight for the eccentricities that surround her and is deliciously droll in presenting the character's no-nonsense sensibility. So strong is her performance that Christine Ebersole, playing what is normally considered to be the showier role, is often overshadowed as she plays a demure Elvira who shows sparks of child-like playfulness. She's charming in the part, but Atkinson's reactions to her as Ruth are just so much more interesting and detailed. Ebersole's ghostly appearance is that of classic Hollywood glamour, looking just lovely Martin Pakledinaz's billowing diaphanous gown topped off by Paul Huntley's shoulder length blonde wig, and she sounds just divine in recorded selection from the Coward songbook played between scenes.
Simon Jones and Deborah Rush provide steady support as the Condomine's amused upper-crust neighbors and Susan Louise O'Connor is simply a riot as their dim and too-eager-to-please servant, Edith. Her bit of business involving a chair and a crowded silver tray deservedly brings down the house.
What Blakemore does here is simply allow an excellent cast who understands the material play it for its rich comic worth, adding appropriate physical embellishments. What a splendid evening!
Photos by Robert J. Saferstein: Top: Deborah Rush, Rupert Everett, Angela Lansbury, Jayne Atkinson and Simon Jones; Bottom: Christine Ebersole
VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE vs. LUCKY GUY for Best Play and More...
Past Articles by This Author:
Check out BroadwayWorld.com's Review Roundups featuring ALL the reviews from Broadway, Off-Broadway, National Tours, the West End and Beyond! |
More Articles by This Author...