Noel Coward’s comic ghost story, BLITHE SPIRIT, kicks off the season at Haddonfield Plays and Players. “Blithe,” a word not often heard today, means happy and light-hearted. The title comes from Percy B. Shelley’s poem “To a Skylark”: “Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! Bird thou never wert.” The spirit in this play is certainly not a bird, nor is she always blithe, but the mischief she stirs up is appropriately cuckoo.
Noel Coward wrote this play during World War II as a diversion for his fellow Britons, who were enduring constant air raids by the Germans. He claimed to have written it in five days. It was extremely successful, and its success continued not only after the war but to this day. There have been movie and television adaptations and even a musical, “High Spirits,” in 1964. It is not dated and is popular with community theatre companies.
The play introduces us to some typical sophisticated, dry-martini-sipping Noel Coward characters. Charles Condomine, a novelist, has invited a medium, Madame Arcati, to his home to perform a séance. He plans to use what he learns from this experience in his latest book. Also present are his second wife, Ruth, and another couple, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman. The séance unexpectedly produces the ghost of Charles’s glamorous first wife, Elvira. At first he only hears her voice, but later she materializes before his eyes. By this time the guests have left, with kooky Madame Arcati furious on learning why she was invited. Only Charles can see and hear Elvira, which leads to hilarious complications with Ruth. From a calm, composed woman she turns into a shrieking fishwife. The next day Charles convinces her that Elvira is real and calls Madame Arcati to get rid of the meddlesome ghost. The medium is delighted that she has actually summoned a spirit, but she hasn’t the faintest idea how to exorcise her. Meanwhile, Elvira concocts a scheme to get Charles to join her. Things go from bad to disastrous until the riotously funny ending.
Director Michael Hicks, who admits that he prefers comedy to drama, has assembled a talented cast and keeps the action moving so that there is never a dull moment. Tom McCurdy is properly perplexed and even likable as Charles. Megan Knowlton Baine as Ruth makes a believable transition from rational to hysterical. Kristina Leigh Lunette has the right touch of quicksilver as devilish Elvira. The Bradmans can easily be played as “window dressing” or mere innocent bystanders, but in the hands of Tom Lorenz and Annette Devitt, they become definite individuals. A great favorite with the audience was Christie Jensen as daffy Madame Arcati, whose antics elicited “walk-offs” (applause) every time she left the stage. Then there is Jamie Lynne Hill, who induces chuckles with her portrayal of Edith, the maid so anxious to please that she runs everywhere.
There is just one criticism. The actresses should keep in mind that when voices become shrill and delivery becomes fast, as they often do in this play, it is often difficult to understand what they are saying. But in general, we can be like the British wartime audiences and forget the world’s many troubles while being entertained Noel Coward style.
by Noel Coward
Directed by Michael Hicks
September 10, 16, 17, 23 and 24, 8 PM.
September 11 and 18 at 2 PM.
Haddonfield Plays and Players
957 E. Atlantic Avenue (next to Crows Woods complex)
Haddonfield, NJ 08033