Spotlighters Theatre is going slightly off-book this year by offering a non-traditional holiday offering. Leave it to one of the most venerable artistic institutions in the city to do something different this season and do it quite well! “Blithe Spirit” is currently floating around the stage and creating an ectoplasmic delight.
Go see “Blithe Spirit.” I promise you’ll be delightfully entertained and filled with the spirit.
Written in 1941 by Noel Coward, the playwright said at the time, “…the play was finished and, disdaining archness and false modesty, I will admit that I knew it was witty, I knew it was well constructed, and I also knew that it would be a success.” Mr. Coward never suffered from false modesty (I’m going to have to try that disdaining archness stuff one of these days.) He was absolutely correct in his assessment. He left out immensely entertaining but I’m pretty sure he knew that, too. The play opened on Broadway in November of 1941 and has been running pretty much ever since on stages all over the world. Filled with pithy dialogue and sophisticated characters both living and dead, the ghostly tale of the household where the late wife comes back to haunt her husband and his current wife due to the convoluted conjuring of the neighborhood medium holds up well as a frothy confection that goes down as deliciously set in Savannah, Georgia as Coward’s original locale of Kent, England.
Director Fuzz Roark has done his usual excellent job of putting together an outstanding team of local artists both on and backstage. His sure hand keeps the three-hour play moving at a fast pace that makes the time pass more quickly than I would have thought. During the times that Coward wrote the piece, three acts and three hours was not unusual. Today’s audiences have a much shorter attention span so being able to maintain that focus is a testament to Roark’s ability. He also designed the outstanding set that was beautifully dressed by Alan Zemla and well lit by Jessica Anderson. Laura Nicholson’s costumes were lovely and entirely fitting, especially the slightly dotty duds on Madam Arcati.
Shaneia Steward is amusing and well-cast as the new housemaid, Edith. Lindsey Shrott does a nice job as Violet Bradman, wife of the family doctor, himself played by a very competent David Chalmers.
In one of the most amusing outings yet in her long career on stage, Suzanne Young chews up the scenery and everyone in her path with her take on the character Madame Arcati. More earnest than accomplished, Madame the Medium unwittingly gets the plot going when she enables first wife Elvira to appear. Young is funny and engaging in her flowing tops and eccentric headpieces and brings the character quite vividly to life. Speaking of bringing characters to life, Melanie Bishop as the late Elvira Condomine is annoyingly perfect as the conniving first wife. With an accent that fairly drips magnolia blossoms and sweet tea, Bishop is a skilled actor who makes you want to wring her lovely neck – exactly the response the character elicits when played this well.
Julie V. Press and Thom Eric Sinn are well matched as the current Mrs. Condomine and the mister himself. Ms. Press has the upright bearing of a Daughter of the Old South, as refined as spun sugar though not nearly as sweet. She is so well suited to the part that had I not seen her in other roles I would wonder if she had other talents in her wheelhouse. I assure you she is as accomplished an actor as y’all will find anywhere ‘round these here parts of the woods.
Thom Eric Sinn is as gentile a southern gent as they come. Even when he’s vexed and perturbed he’s, for the most part, controlled, never letting the hysteria get the better of his fine sense of comedic timing. His accent was as steady and true to Georgia as it could be, and his physicality was always just enough without going too far into camp.
There are plenty enough theatres in the area paying homage to the season, but really, do we need one more Scrooge on 34th Street having a Wonderful Life with Elves telling Christmas Stories? Go see “Blithe Spirit.” I promise you’ll be delightfully entertained and filled with the spirit. And isn’t that what the season is all about?
Running Time: Two hours and 55 minutes, including one intermission.
“Blithe Spirit” runs December 14-23 and January 4-20 at Spotlighters Theatre, 817 Saint Paul Street – Baltimore, MD 21202, 410-752-1225 for information. Click here for tickets.