BLITHE SPIRIT at Chapel Street Players: Such Harmonious Madness!

by Rosanne DellAversano

Chapel Street Players’ production of BLITHE SPIRIT materializes into an evening of wit, humor and ghostly fun.

When fussy novelist, Charles Condomine, needs to conduct research for his next book, he invites the eccentric, “happy medium,” Madame Arcati, to a quaint soiree for a friendly séance. Events go awry when Madame Arcati unknowingly conjures Charles’ impetuous first wife, Elvira, who has been dead for seven years. However, Elvira can only be seen by Charles. Ruth, the priggish new wife, thinks Charles has gone mad (that is until Elvira offers a vase to Ruth in an all but too ghostly manner). Elvira’s devilish efforts to reclaim Charles (either in this world or the next) backfire when Ruth is killed while driving the car rigged to kill Charles. Ruth, in true spirited fashion, immediately returns to exact her revenge on Elvira. And, although Charles can see Elvira, Ruth remains invisible to everyone. Madame Arcati is called back to rid Charles of both misbehaving spirits but, instead, Ruth materializes and the two wives continue their battle royal whilst throwing the entire household into chaos. After several unique attempts to banish the spirits, Madame Arcati succeeds. Or, does she?

Marlene Hummel, Curtis King in a scene from CSP’s BLITHE SPIRIT. (Photo credit: Che-Yu (Peter) Kuo)

Written by Noël Coward in only five days, BLITHE SPIRIT takes its title from Shelley’s poem “To a Skylark” (“Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! / Bird thou never wert”). First seen in London in 1941, it created a new long-run record for non-musical British plays (1,997 performances) and also did well on Broadway later that year. The play enjoyed several revivals over the years and returned to Broadway in February 2009 with Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati. (Ms Lansbury secured her fifth Tony Award with the revival – Best Featured Actress). The work has been adapted into film, musical theater, radio and television versions. The 1945 film version directed by David Lean works its way into Chapel Street’s production. The script, which can be rather wordy, has also been modified for this production.

The ensemble of actors, most of which have appeared on the CSP stage before, execute Jamie Cunningham’s stage direction with care and accuracy on the well-appointed set designed by Scott F. Mason. Curtis King imparts the right amount of debonair wit to the character of Charles Condomine. Cindy Starcher, as Ruth Condomine, executes a balanced approach in transforming from the tormented to the tormentor. Tricia LaRock gracefully floats from scene to scene as Charles’ first wife, Elvira. Unfortunately, the roles of George & Violet Bradman (capably played by Dan Tucker and Pat Cullinane) don’t provide enough stage time for one to sink their teeth into the characters. This is also true of Linda Kimmelman’s portrayal of Edith, the Condomine’s maid. With all of the words needing to be digested, a little physical comedy from Edith may have helped to flush out the character’s dimwittedness. However, as is normally the case with BLITHE SPIRIT, the scene-stealer is Madame Arcati. Marlene Hummel resourcefully conjures her own interestingly amusing take on Madame Arcati. From her hot pink booties to her séance dances, there’s no mistaking this Madame Arcati is a very spirited old girl.

Some nervousness crept out every now and then – a flubbed line, an unsteady accent – but I attributed those moments to it being opening night with an almost full house of enthusiastic audience members.

November 8, 9, 10, 14, 15 & 16, 2013
Written by Noel Coward
Directed by Jamie Cunningham
Chapel Street Players
27 N. Chapel Street
Newark, DE 19711

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