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Sunday, 21 November 2010 15:14

Blithe Spirit a spirited romp at Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Written by Mark Bretz
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Blithe Spirit a spirited romp at Kirkwood Theatre Guild

Kirkwood Theatre Guild recently unveiled its 80th season with an audience-pleasing presentation of Noel Coward's charming comedy, Blithe Spirit. It's the type of show and production that has pleased patrons of the venerable community theater for eight decades.

Charles Condomine enjoys his comfortable lifestyle in the county of Kent, outside London, circa 1940. The affluent novelist lives there with his second wife, Ruth, in the lap of luxury, catered to by his daffy maid Edith and other servants.

While visited by their neighbors, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, Charles recounts his life with his first wife, the late Elvira, who met a prematurely tragic end. When told of a local spiritualist who communicates with the dead via séances, Charles invites the eccentric Madame Arcati to his home, hoping to gather material for a new novel. Instead, the wacky clairvoyant opens a portal for the ghost of Elvira back into Charles' home.

There, she takes over where she left off, attempting to run her husband's affairs, while he at first incredulously and then reluctantly communicates with her spirit, which he finds every bit as fiery and challenging as Elvira was in life. Charles is also the only person who actually sees or hears Elvira, leading to all sorts of shenanigans and humorous situations with Ruth, the Bradmans and others.

Blithe Spirit ran for nearly 2,000 performances when Coward first introduced it in London's West End in 1941. England was deep into World War II, and the levity of Coward's work proved a balm for English audiences whose loved ones were fighting for freedom and survival against Nazi Germany in Europe.

The gentle dialogue and amusing premise of Blithe Spirit makes for a winning combination for the agreeable audiences that frequent Kirkwood Theatre Guild productions. The recent presentation directed by Paul Pagano delivered a generally satisfying rendition, even with some uncertain and uneven performances.

Pagano nurtured his cast through three brisk acts that displayed Coward's wit and easygoing style with fun and an accent on entertainment. Best of the performances was a witty and stylish turn by Kathryn L. Kent as the ethereal Elvira. Complete with ghoulish makeup, Kent displayed a cool and acerbic way with Elvira's dialogue, accentuating the comic circumstances with a dose of other-worldly sensuality that made her rapport with Charles all the more intriguing.

Audience favorite Kent Coffel offered another nice comic portrayal as the befuddled Charles. While not up to some previous performances, Coffel nonetheless has a winning ability to stamp comic characters with his charming and disarming capabilities.

Janice Bruns Mantovani at first was hilarious as the rambunctious, whirling dervish of the medium Madame Arcati. The hilarity, however, diminished through the evening as her portrayal remained essentially the same from start to finish, with little shading or subtle strokes of character added along the way. Annie Bayer was fine as the perplexed and annoyed second wife Ruth, while Elizabeth Graveman was amusing as frenzied maid Edith. Robert Doyle and Janet Seitz Wheatley were pleasant as the visiting Bradmans and Boogie Clark added the impish voice of Daphne, another disembodied soul resurrected by Madame Arcati.

Pagano and Brandon Atkins designed the handsome English manor of a set, with some nifty properties efforts by Leah Myers Giessing, particularly with some the manifestation of some 'floating' objects put in motion by Elvira. Kristi Eberly's lighting and JD Wade's sound added to the proceedings, as did Cherol Thibaut's handsome costumes for both the living and the deceased, especially the ladies' gowns.

All in all, Blithe Spirit was a charming enough presentation that delivered the comic goods for its receptive audiences.

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