The hero of Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” has an interesting problem. He’s got a beautiful woman who won’t leave him alone.
If it doesn’t sound like a problem at first, one has to consider that the woman is his ex-wife, who died seven years ago.
The University Players’ performance of “Blithe Spirit” on Sept. 25-30 served as an excellent start to what looks like a promising year of theatre productions. Directed by Stephen Michael Ayers and starring Michael Wannagot as Charles Condomine, Serenity Richards as his wife Ruth and Katherine Barron as the ex-wife apparition Elvira, the production of “Blithe Spirit” was two acts and seven scenes worth of well-acted dramatic comedy.
Charles and Ruth Condomine throw a dinner party, inviting friends Dr. George (Daniel Weger) and Violet Bradman (Bridget) and the Jamaican queen of the supernatural, Madame Arcati (Bobbi Baker). Charles has ulterior motives in mind, hoping to persuade Arcati to hold a sÃ©ance so that he can gather information for an upcoming book about a homicidal medium.
Things get weird however, when the sÃ©ance brings back a ghostly spectre, the spirit of Elvira, whom no one can see nor hear but Charles. Things get weirder as both Ruth and Elvira fight for the love of Charles, while Charles struggles to keep his sanity.
The play featured not a single scene of below-par acting, but there were a few moments that stuck out as nearly Tony-worthy. Baker as Arcati stole nearly every scene she was in, as the humorous Ms. Cleoesque medium who returns to try to help the Condomines with their otherworldly problems later in the play. Ashleigh Sumner, although not appearing as often, brought many a laugh as the fidgety, nervous maid Edith.
By far though, the best part of the play was the believable relationship between the prim and proper Ruth, the teetering on insanity Charles, and the playful, irresponsible ghost of Elvira. Each actor and actress seemed to have a handle on their character, and as Wannagot raised his voice to the unseen Elvira, only to be misunderstood by Ruth, you could tell that Charles was a man who was barely hanging on.
The play was set against a beautifully decorated, and sadly destroyed backdrop of the Condomine’s Kent, England living room. One of the eeriest moments in the play came during the original sÃ©ance, when Madame Arcati’s otherworldly contact, the young Daphne (Ashley Gates), can be seen strolling wraithlike amidst a thick layer of fog across the Condomine’s patio.
Overall, the University Players’ production of “Blithe Spirit” was excellently staged, excellently performed, and was immensely entertaining, setting the stage (no pun intended) for future productions this year.
Look for the Players to return in their production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” on Nov. 13-18.