Blithe Spirit

Noel Coward’s British drawing room comedy Blithe Spirit is being given a solid revival by the stalwart Park Slope company Gallery Players, now beginning its 47th season. Director Sue Glausen has let Coward’s dialogue shine forth, bringing a natural effervescence to the stage on a fine, clever period set by Olia Rogova.

The story is simple. Charles is a writer doing research for a novel about spiritualism. He and wife Ruth invite friends over to participate in a séance, so that Charles may observe the medium and get the lingo correct. Though the participants are skeptics, the medium is actually the real deal. The spirits are indeed contacted and unfortunately for Charles one particular ghost is made to manifest: his deceased first wife Elvira. The resulting situation comedy and concomitant Coward repartee will not be revealed here for fear of spoiling the fun.

It took a while for the cast to warm up to the rapid cueing pace required of a Coward comedy, but after a scene or two they got into the “spirit” of the piece. This reviewer saw the opening performance, so some of the pace problems may no doubt be attributed to that. At any rate, Bonnie Wickeraad as Ruth and Matt W. Cody as Charles, the hosts who commission a séance, soon got into the delicious swing of things and bantered back and forth winningly.

Noelle McGrath, as the spirit medium Madame Arcati engaged to communicate with the afterlife, gives a delightful comic turn. Elliott Mayer and Patricia Lavin, as Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, friends brought in to assist in the séance, are both fine in their supporting roles, though their British accents vary from passable to non-existent. Special kudos must go to Amy Scanlon as the put upon maid Edith, who gives a wonderfully fleshed out, funny performance despite having the smallest role. Amber Nicole Guest was a perfect Elvira, a beautiful spirit suddenly thrust from the ectoplasm, with a lovely voice, who somehow manages to earn our sympathies while being playfully nefarious.

The blocking was a little too naturalistic and static -- not playing to the high Coward style, meaning Glausen allowed too much profile acting and not enough playing to the audience. With Coward, it is important that the audience feel a part of the conversation, so that they get the high irony undercurrent in the subtext. This is much more difficult to get across when the actors aren’t facing front, letting us see the actors’ eyes -- not all the time, of course, but a good deal of the time. Directors sometimes forget that a play like Blithe Spirit was written for a certain style of presentation, but perhaps in this day and age this is just a quibble on my part, as audiences still seem to enjoy themselves. Judging from the opening night, this Gallery Players audience was no exception – they loved it! Yet I do wish there had been more movement: there was a little too much sitting/standing still and talking for my taste.

Joey Haws’ costume design suited the 1940’s period and the individual characters well. Jacob Subotnick’s sound design and Andrew Lu’s lighting design both worked very effectively. Properties designer Sara Slagle also did good work, no small task bringing about all those period knickknacks and hand props! Finally, although I wish animate ghostly entrances had had a bit more spook to them, Rogova did a great job bringing spooks to her inanimate set.

All told, Blithe Spirit is a fun evening’s entertainment and a worthy start to Gallery Players’ new season.