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Tuesday, 02 April 2013 15:18

Not you again!

Written by Bob Wilcox
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Not all actors can find and maintain the proper form for playing the stylish comedy of Noel Coward, the immensely popular British playwright and actor of the last century. As with all comedy, the actors must always convince us of the reality of their characters and of what is happening to them, even when what is happening moves beyond the reality of what happens to most of us every day. That's what makes it funny.

The cast in the recent production of Coward's "Blithe Spirit" at the Alpha Players of Florissant, under the direction of Judy Yordon, happily found and maintained Coward's style through much of the production. As in any good theatre, the characters are more articulate in expressing themselves, whether expressing their brightness or their dullness, than we hesitating and stumbling mortals normally are. So the cast kept a good brisk comic pace going.

But they also had to convince us of the reality of the central unreality of this play. That is the presence of a ghost. Charles Condomine – Tom Bell as perhaps a bit more Tom Bell than was best, but a minor handicap – Charles Condomine is a successful writer who has decided to write a book about the paranormal. To research the subject, he and his wife, played by a properly proper and commonsensical Tanya Burns, invite to dinner the local eccentric who claims to be a medium, Madame Arcati.

At Alpha Players, Madame Arcati was played by a man, J.S. Dent. And it worked quite wonderfully. Dent had the requisite flamboyant extravagance of manner and trilling of voice that the character demands. He sometimes trilled to the edge of incomprehension. And sometimes the flamboyance went a little beyond the credible. Always, he was a delight.

Invited to round out the party are the local MD, Dr Bradman, a slightly stiff Bob Veatch, and his wife, played by Jennifer Kerner, who made the character's girlish enthusiasm work.

In any case, in demonstrating her occult powers, Madame Arcati succeeds not only in contacting the other side but in transporting to the mortal plane the ghost of Condomine's first wife, the high-strung Elvira. Nothing good could come of that. And only Condomine can see and hear her, a classic farcical set-up. Costume designer Jean Heckmann draped Elvira in a properly diaphanous gown, in which Shannon Burgdorf could drift and float and pirouette about the stage in ghostly fashion. She displayed all the impetuous, seductive, and devious qualities of this nefarious spirit. And racing about the Condomine house, a handsomely put-together, uncredited set lit by Ethan Dudenhoeffer, as if she were still snapping to in His Majesty's navy, was Rachel Wilder as the maid Edith, given smart extra duties of shifting properties between scenes in clever and funny ways.

Brian Borgstede supplied sounds of both this world and the other, and diction coach Gwenneth Raush helped with the not-bad Brit speech.

Alpha Players gave "Blithe Spirit" a fine romp.

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