Are you ready for the ghosts of Halloween? Audiences generally think of ghosts today as ghoulish staples in terrifying stories and frightening films. Yet there was a time when ghosts were amusing, charming, comical, and even romantic. We refer to the world of “Caspar the Friendly Ghost,” “Topper,” and “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.” Imagine Caspar, Topper, and Captain Gregg with witty and biting dialogue written by, say, Oscar Wilde, and you have an idea of the content and spirit (or spirits!) of Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit,” on stage at Other Voices in Frederick, Maryland, through October 28.
In this fantasy story, Charles and his wife Ruth hold a séance in order that Charles, a writer and unbeliever, might have a psychic experience for a writing project. The séance, however, successfully conjures up Charles’ first wife Elvira. She begins creating mischief, and is eventually joined by another ghost. Only Charles can hear and see his first wife’s ghost, and this creates comic dialogue as other characters in the play think he is addressing them rudely!
The play is full of witty Wildean-style lines (penned by Coward), such as: “ It is discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.” At the same time, there is some macabre dialogue appropriate for the Halloween season:
Charles: Elvira had a certain ethereal, not-quite-of-this-world quality.
Ruth: She was of the earth. Earthy.
Charles (remembering Elvira is dead and buried): Well, she is now, anyhow.
And there are scenes such as calling forth spirits and effects of poltergeists which are downright spooky, mixing delightfully with the comedy!
The production at Other Voices is an impressive one in terms of 30’s period atmosphere and costumes, delightful acting and sets, and – as stated above – impressive special effects. There is an understatement which is also commendable: The ghost of Elvira, for instance, simply wears white to signify her ghostly presence.
The sharp and sparkling direction of Susan Thornton unites all of these wonderful aspects of the production, as well as the amalgamation of the ghostly and comic aspects of the play itself.
Period music is added, namely swing recordings by Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, and Harry James, which serve as effective transitions between scenes. One aspect this performance adds which is not always associated with British comedy based on witty dialogue is some energetic physical humor, especially by the hapless maid Edith, played winsomely by LJ Teske.
While on the subject of actors, they are simply superb: Matt Bannister is excellent as lead character Charles, the British gentleman with sardonic wit. Ruth and Elvira, played by Melissa Powell and Micelle Boizelle respectively, are matches for repartee as Charles is caught between these two wives, the second living and the first spectral. A standout performer is certainly Amy Hebb, energetically portraying the psychic Madame Arcati to high comic effect.
The sharp and sparkling direction of Susan Thornton unites all of these wonderful aspects of the production, as well as the amalgamation of the ghostly and comic aspects of the play itself. This Noel Coward drama is not performed nearly as often as it once was or deserves to be, and it is an especially welcome Halloween season package full of both spectral tricks and comic treats!
Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
“Blithe Spirit” plays through October 28, 2018, at The Performing Arts Factory, 244B South Jefferson Street in Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 662-3722 or purchase them online.