Reviewed by Carolyn M. Gillespie
Kay Kelly’s Kearsley Park Players opened Blithe Spirit at the historic Colwell Opera House in Crossroads Village last night. It is the final offering in the 2013 season of Theatre in Our Parks. And spirited it was! Noel Coward’s plays – and, indeed, comedy of manners in general, can prove challenging to American actors, particularly non-professionals, but Ms. Kelly has assembled a cast for this stylish production that gets all the major things right.
The charming Opera House built in Fenton in 1869 and moved to the Crossroads Village site in 1978 provides a charming frame for this period production. Though written by Coward in 1941, it bears all the hallmarks of two centuries of comic tradition. The elegant set with its very tall windows and well-selected furnishings invite us into the moneyed class Charles Condomine inhabits in Kent with his second wife Ruth. Charles is a writer planning to do some firsthand research for his current project, an exposé of the fraudulent clairvoyance business. He invites Madame Arcati, a local medium, to conduct a séance at his home. What materializes rocks his world. But that’s for you to experience for yourselves!
Jason Garza leads the cast with a full palette of emotions and takes us along on his roller coaster ride to the spirit world. He begins with the arrogant confidence of a confirmed non-believer and becomes increasingly unglued as the plot unfolds. At times he revels in female attention; at others, he rails at his complete loss of control. Shelli McCormick plays the medium, Madame Arcati. Her commanding voice and presence contrast nicely with the character’s sweet, dotty concentration – and her British dialect is excellent! Ella J. Thorp’s Elvira is alternately charming and appropriately annoying, aided by her idiosyncratic voice and filmy costume that looks absolutely splendid on the olive velvet Victorian sofa. Natalie Rose as Condomine’s current wife Ruth is a solid contrast to the ethereal Elvira. Her competent, sensible world is turned topsy-turvy by jealousy, misunderstanding, and not a little lack of sympathy. Brian Haggard and Royaa Soltani strike just the right note as Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, friends of the Condomine’s who are included in the séance, and facilitate the plot. Last but not least, Brittany Reed gets to play Edith, the hapless maid whose efforts to control her tendency to move with great speed provide some of the first comedic moments of the evening. Keep your eyes on her – she provides some clues to the mysterious goings-on.
Dialect work is uneven, and the black costumes against the black walls tend to make the actors disappear into the scenery – strange choice for a comedy. One could wish for more sophisticated sound equipment so that the beautiful and haunting I’ll Be Loving You Always can fade rather than cut off, or that cues like the knocking and phone could appear to come from a more logical place. And occasionally, repetitive gestures from the elbow and mugging insert themselves when an actor hasn’t made a stronger choice, but these are small quibbles. By and large, this company abides by the primary rules of comic style and play the situations in which they find themselves without asking for laughs. Oh, the laughter is there, all right, but as a legitimate result of an honest approach. Be prepared for the three hour running time and enjoy the ride.
Blithe Spirit runs for this weekend only with shows tonight (Friday) and Saturday at 7:00 pm and closes Sunday with a matinee at 2:00 pm.