“SHE SAID”: Sublime Comedy: BLITHE SPIRIT at the Delaware Theatre Company

by Jessica Graae

Charles (James Michael Reilly, center) tries to explain to his wife Ruth (Christie Parker, right) that the ghost of his first wife, Elvira (Beth Hylton, left) is in the room. BLITHE SPIRIT runs through March 20, 2011 at Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington DE. (Photo credit: Matt Urban)

Death and marital strife have never been so funny. What starts out as an innocent séance becomes every married man’s nightmare. The Delaware Theatre Company’s production of Noël Coward’s BLITHE SPIRIT, directed by Domenick Scudera, is lively, witty and well-paced. Coward exploits every opportunity for humor: human frailty, physical comedy and good old-fashioned misunderstanding. John Raley’s beautifully detailed set immediately transports us to the 1940’s, with its charming parlor and inner dining room. The cast does a splendid job with this vivid comedy.

James Michael Reilly plays Charles Condomine, a novelist and exasperated husband. Reilly infuses his character with just the right amount of earnestness, pomposity and seething frustration. At one point, Condomine‘s behavior degenerates into what resembles a toddler’s temper-tantrum, complete with comic flailing of arms and legs. Christie Parker is excellent in the role of the baffled and vulnerable second wife, Ruth. To Condomine, she seems overbearing and domineering. Ruth’s obsession with her role in the household and place in her husband’s heart causes her to stir up trouble. As she tries to get him to rate his first wife’s beauty, we are clued in to the disastrously funny farce about to unfold.

As the maid, Edith, Sarah Doherty reveals her mastery of scene stealing. Edith tries to be efficient in the silliest ways, always calling attention to herself. She manages to be awkward and clumsy in everything she does: startling visitors by announcing their arrival at top of her lungs, removing objects from the table with her teeth and tripping over every piece of furniture on the set.

Beth Hylton is a wonderfully conniving Elivra, the ghost of Condomine’s second wife. Conjured up in the séance, she conspires to ruin Condomine’s marriage with Ruth. Ceal Phelan, as Mrs. Bradman, the overly curious dinner guest, is prim and proper. Yet one gets the feeling she is dying to break out of her staid, proper persona. As her husband, Dr. Bradman, Peter DeLaurier is sympathetic, but cynical.

Most hilarious is Meghan Colleen Moroney as Madame Arcati, the kooky medium. Thanks to the costume designer, Brian Strachan, each of her entrances has extra panache. Her outfits are weird combinations of self- expression and bizarre fashion, the most ridiculous being her second act costume which is reminiscent of an Alpine yodeler’s ensemble. Arcati takes her job as medium seriously, but her eccentricity and her confusion over how to rid the house of unwanted ghosts adds fuel to the comedy.

Though the play is richly humorous, Coward grapples with some weighty ideas. The main character is faced with the unresolved conflicts in his marriages, and by the end of the play he begins to ponder the meaning of love and fidelity. Veiled in comedy, many of the scenes touch on painful themes of rivalry and jealousy. Still, we enjoy laughing at things that, in real life, might not be so funny.

by Noel Coward
Directed by Domenick Scudera
March 2 – 20, 2011
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE 19801
Box Office 302.594.1100

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